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Mosquito Lake volunteers question lack of borough funds for snowplowing

 

October 20, 2022



Mosquito Lake volunteers told the CVN this week they don’t have enough money to cover the cost of snowplowing at the neighborhood’s borough-owned community center.

Friends of Mosquito Lake School and Community Center (FMLSCC) and borough officials signed an agreement last year that said the volunteers would be responsible for plowing at the facility. While borough staff maintain direction from the Haines Borough Assembly was clear in not allocating funds for the service, some Mosquito Lake residents are questioning whether volunteers should be expected to pay for it.

The community center, which was a school until 2014, is used as a school bus turnaround, garbage collection site, storage area, emergency shelter and gathering place for upper valley residents. The borough paid for and coordinated plowing until 2020, when the officials decreased spending amid the pandemic and state funding cuts. FMLSCC volunteers provided the service and covered costs for a year.

But that was supposed to be a temporary solution, former FMLSCC board president Dawn Drotos told the CVN. Borough officials, however, saw it as setting a precedent.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) adopted last fall between the borough and FMLSCC said the volunteer group “shall manage the janitorial, garbage and snowplowing needs of the Facility” and “shall be responsible to provide for… upkeep of the grounds including snow removal.”

In a memo to the assembly last September, borough clerk Alekka Fullerton wrote, “After several modifications (to the MOU), the only area remaining is the issue of snow plowing.” She said the assembly would need to amend the budget if it wanted to fund the service.

The borough approved the MOU unanimously but didn’t vote on whether to fund plowing. Three assembly members at the time — Caitie Rothbart, Carol Tuynman and Paul Rogers — suggested they might support allocating funds to plow, while one, Jerry Lapp, voiced opposition.

“(The issue) wasn’t necessarily totally nailed down, and I would like to discuss it before agreeing to this (MOU) and having it come back to bite us in January,” Rothbart said at a meeting in September 2021.

Julie Korsmeyer, who became FMLSCC board president during negotiations with the borough last year, said she should have been more clear about how she interpreted the agreement. When she signed it, she was under the impression that FMLSCC would manage plowing but that the borough would pay for it.

“Unfortunately (the MOU is) not clear. I think in light of the fact that I signed it, I should have been more clear about how we were interpreting (it) based on the past, when the borough had provided snowplowing,” Korsmeyer said. She said she understood the borough’s interpretation and admitted the MOU “shouldn’t have been worded that way.”

Korsmeyer said the volunteer group plans to file a request for the Haines Borough Assembly to amend the MOU to clear up the issue, which could be on the agenda as soon as the assembly’s Nov. 8 meeting.

After the assembly adopted the MOU, the issue of plowing emerged again in three borough manager’s reports over the winter. Manager Annette Kreitzer told the assembly that FMLSCC, per the borough’s agreement, was responsible for snow removal but wasn’t providing it.

Kreitzer said she had to authorize spending on minimal plowing last winter — costing up to $5,100 — to provide access for basic maintenance, like filling the fuel tank, that would prevent damage to the building.

“I’m sort of caught between a rock and hard place right now, where there’s no money for plowing, and yet the folks who are supposed to be doing the plowing are refusing to do it,” Kreitzer told the assembly in February.

Former assembly member and Mosquito Lake resident Paul Rogers, who plowed the facility as a volunteer last winter, said in February that he was “torn” on the issue. He called FMLSCC’s refusal to plow “frustrating,” given that the MOU says they are responsible for doing so. He proposed that the borough help organize a schedule for volunteers to finish out the season, then have a “different discussion” this year.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel at the same meeting made a motion to allocate $8,000 from the general fund for plowing at the facility, but the assembly rejected the motion 4-3. (Mayor Douglas Olerud broke the tie.)

“It really is a borough responsibility to maintain our facilities. And to expect a volunteer group to absorb in their operational budget a snow plow, especially in a year like (winter of 2021-22), is asking too much. We don’t do that with any other facility, to my knowledge, ” Schnabel said at the meeting.

FMLSCC board member Erika Merklin questioned how the borough could afford to spend $30,000 on routine maintenance of the rural Porcupine Road — which was a budget item they passed this summer —  but couldn’t spend a fraction of that amount on plowing at the Mosquito Lake Community Center.

“MLCC’s meager coffers are dedicated to programs like kids camp, a tool lending library and food security. We do not currently have the funds to purchase or hire machinery to support the shortfall in the Haines Borough budget,” she wrote in a statement to the CVN last week.

The borough budget for this fiscal year includes $41,150 for Mosquito Lake Community Center, including $15,000 for maintenance other than plowing. Due to the higher cost of utilities and insurance, borough funding for the facility is up about $11,000 from 2019, when snow removal last was included in the budget.

 
 

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