Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 8:37 PM on Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Everything on table as borough mayor considers how best to balance budget

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer

With the Kenai Peninsula Borough facing a multi-million dollar expense to transform the Homer Baling-Landfill Facility into the Homer Transfer Site, Mayor Dave Carey is giving borough dollars a close eye.

"I'm required by law to present a balanced budget," said Carey. "If you look at the total amount of income from sales tax and property tax, you arrive at approximately $57 million this year. In this current year, we funded schools to a little more than $43 million. That basically leaves $14 million for all the rest of general government. ... Out of that $14 million, I have to find $9-$12 million extra dollars. It's impossible."

Or is it?

"Certainly a significant option is to cut expenses," said Carey, who has thrown everything on the table to see what can be cut and where in order to pay for construction of the transfer site before the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation permit expires August 2013.

First consideration: exemptions. The borough offers 14 mandatory and 10 optional exemptions. There are exemption qualifications for senior citizens, borough residents, businesses and emergency responders, to name a few. However, after reviewing the optional exemptions and the effort and cost to rescind them, Carey said he told the assembly he would not consider that avenue as an expense-cutting route.

"The second place was non-departmentals," said Carey of the Economic Development District, Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, Central Area Rural Transit System, Small Business Development Center, Kenai Peninsula College-University of Alaska Anchorage and the borough's lobbyist-lawyer in Washington, D.C.

"In talking with non-departmentals, they believe I'm saying they are not valuable. That is not so. All of them contribute," said Carey. "I have $12 million to find and although they serve a good purpose and are helpful, they are not required as second class borough."

Independent Living Center in Homer receives funding through CARTS, however Joyanna Geisler, executive director of the Homer ILC, doesn't see cause for concern.

"It really shouldn't affect the project that we're doing down here in Homer," said Geisler. "Basically, CARTS is a conduit to get state and federal funds. I look at them as basically being a grant writer for us."

In 1990, the borough assembly passed an ordinance providing funding of postsecondary education subject to a one-tenth of a mill tax levy limit. This fiscal year, the borough provided $637,570 for KPC's borough-wide programs and support services. That includes a partial tuition waiver for high school seniors in the Jump Start program and $195,000 for the Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer. Outlined by Carol Swartz, KBC director, that amount funds:

• Adult basic education, general education development for the southern peninsula: $46,700;

• Part-time library assistant: $22,000;

• An information and registration clerk: $26,000;

• Math and English tutoring services: $16,100;

• A student adviser, $38,900;

• Instructional support for faculty and students, and test proctoring: $45,100.

"My understanding of what the mayor is doing is giving a heads-up, that if revenue is needed, he is looking to recommend to the assembly a variety of things, one of which includes reducing the appropriation that has been going to KPC to fund post-secondary and vocational education support services and programs," said Swartz.

Loss of that funding could result in high school seniors paying full tuition. Currently, 27 high school seniors on the southern Kenai Peninsula are taking advantage of the Jump Start program, enrolled in 40 courses and earning dual high school and college credits. Four seniors are taking welding courses and will be certified upon completion.

Borough support has proven useful in leveraging other funding for the college, according to Swartz.

Recognizing the financial challenge facing the borough, Swartz encouraged the public contact the Legislature about the need for funding the transfer site.

"We're in this together," she said. "We need to get involved and help them help us. The public needs to send e-mails and letters in support of the borough's solid waste request. We're not in separate roles here. It's all inter-related."

Carey asked department heads to provide budgets identical to the prior year, as well as a budget reflecting a 3 percent decrease. Service areas have been asked for budgets reflecting a one-tenth mill reduction. The amount in the borough's fund balance is being reevaluated, as are hours of operation at borough sites.

Another option is a permit extension from the Department of Environmental Conservation which would allow for construction of the transfer site to be completed over two years rather than one (see related story, page 1).

"He's preparing for a worse-case scenario with the information we have on hand," said Bill Smith, who represents the city of Homer on the assembly. "He's made some good points, that instead of just asking for money, you can also ask what can I do to help. That's a good message. ... We just have to be flexible and do whatever we can do."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.