Second work session and third reading to follow

On May 18, Skagway’s Borough Assembly held a public hearing and second reading of the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. The assembly plans on having another budget review workshop, with the third and final reading of the budget taking place at the regular assembly meeting on June 15.

The assembly had previously held an Assembly of the Whole Meeting over the budget, in which it noted a number of items in the operating budget, capital improvement projects and community funding requests that could be cut from the 2018 budget to help the municipality’s checkbook stay balanced.

Assembly Member Orion Hanson suggested more of the same on May 18, recommending cutting a couple projects from the 2018 budget so the municipality does not have to dip into its reserves. The sidewalk project on Broadway, which is in the budget as a $327,008 expense, was one of these.

“So that’s a pretty significant cost that could be put off until next year,” Hanson said. “I think everyone at this table would like to have a balanced budget, and not go beyond our means, but the wants of this town are many, and our revenues are not enough.

“I think we’re all looking for ways to make this budget balanced, but there’s going to be a lot of ‘no’s’ we have to say here to the wants, not the needs.”

During the discussion, Assembly Member Spencer Morgan made a suggestion for future years: Rather than the assembly members going line by line in the operating budget and making cuts, they could instead give the department heads a directive to reduce their expenditures by a certain percentage.

“Those departments are going to be the best people to identify how they are going to be able to do that,” Morgan said.

The community funding request component drew all the public comments regarding budget matters on May 18, with representatives from  Elks Lodge #431 and KHNS pleading the case for their funding requests. In the Assembly of the Whole Meeting almost two weeks prior, the assembly had discussed cutting down or eliminating some of the requests.

At that May 5 meeting, the question came up regarding what KHNS would be using the $20,000 it had requested for.

Members of KHNS’ Board of Directors spoke to the radio station’s situation before the assembly on May 18.

Deb Potter, vice president for the board, said the $20,000 request would be put towards keeping the station running.

“I think we’re pretty proud of our news department,” Potter said. “Over the last year we made the conscious decision to really focus on creating more local programming.

“We have two news reporters, and at this point the staff is at the minimum it can be. If we had to cut a news reporter, that would be a big loss.”

Potter said that KHNS provides a local service no other organization provides, particularly when it comes to distributing immediate information during emergency situations.

Representatives of the Elks also came before the assembly to advocate for their organization’s request.

Resident Andrew Cremata, a former officer of the Elks, spoke up during the meeting, and said he felt there had been a misunderstanding regarding the Elk’s request.

The amount the lodge asked for in the community funding requests was $6,200. The lodge had originally asked the municipality wave the property tax on the Elks’ building. Cremata said the Elks has had a number of maintenance issues that have come up of late, such as needing a new stove and refrigerator.

“All of these things have been adding up to a lot of money,” Cremata said. “So we’re faced with the prospect of having to cut into some of our programs, the programs that are essential to the community that we run.”

Due to Alaska State Statutes, a property tax exemption would be tricky, according to Cremata, so the present proposal was instead made. Cremata said the $6,200 figure was selected for a funding request because it was approximately what the lodge pays in property taxes, and because that amount would cover the cost of a new refrigerator.

“We were looking for this because we can’t maintain the same level of community commitment unless we find different ways of funding the lodge,” Cremata said. “Because we are at a breaking point. And to add insult to injury, since last time we wrote that letter, somebody drove into the bowling alley, and now we have no bowling alley revenue, probably for the entire summer.”

Assembly Member Steve Burnham Jr. made the motion to adopt all the proposed work session amendments to the budget, change “2030 Comprehensive Plan” to read “2030 Comprehensive Plan and Climate Action Plan” under the Capital Improvements Project section of the budget and include $6,200 for the Elks Lodge.

This motion passed 5-0.

Hanson followed this action with a motion of his own: eliminating the Broadway sidewalk repair project from the 2018 budget.

“It’s blighted, it’s a problem, but it’s $327,000,” Hanson said. “We’ve got to make some cuts somewhere.”

Burnham and Morgan said that the damaged sidewalk has been on the municipality’s radar for years. Spencer agreed that public works identified the project as one that could be put off, “but we’ve put it off for three or four years now.”

That motion failed 4-1, with Hanson supporting. The vote for the second reading of the budget passed 5-0.

The assembly will hold an additional work session over the budget, which will be scheduled at a later date.

The final reading of the fiscal year 2018 budget will be on June 15.