The Harbor and HARK – those were the two big issues at Tuesday’s Haines borough assembly meeting. One assembly member proposed raising taxes but in the end that idea died. But the assembly did propose trying to find a way try to keep animal control services funded through HARK.
The audience drove the conversation for the evening when, during public comment, nearly 15 people spoke. The crowd was split between two issues; funding for Haines Animal Rescue Kennel and the planning process surrounding the harbor expansion. (We’ll have more on the harbor expansion discussion on an upcoming newscast.)
Manager Dave Sosa is proposing the borough eliminate a $48,000 contract between the police department and HARK for animal control services. Sosa recommends this because of reduced funding from the state Community Jails Program. That makes up 40 percent of the funding for the police department. While the state budget is not finalized, Sosa says he was notified by the Department of Corrections to expect at least a 32 percent cut in funding.
Sosa recommends cutting the hours of two police dispatchers, freezing the hire of a fifth police officer and cutting the HARK contract. He wants the police department take over animal control.
Several people voiced opposition to that idea during public comment Tuesday. Most assembly members also said they are reluctant to cut HARK.
“I think if you were to take 20 people at random and say ‘Would you rather have the animals taken care of like they have been in a professional way or an extra policeman,’ the animals would win hands down,” said Mike Case.
But Sosa was just as adamant that $48,000 is too much to pay for animal control. He also noted the other police services under the knife including dispatch hours and an officer position.
“I have to look at that contract very rigorously and assure to myself, the assembly and the people of Haines that for specific service provided – animal control within the townsite, licensing of animals that live within he townsite, I need to focus on that within the contract and how much should we be paying for that,” Sosa said.
The talk about HARK funding set off a bigger discussion about the budget. Assembly member George Campbell threw a higher tax increase into the mix. He said he’s disappointed the budget doesn’t address the failing wastewater treatment plant, Lutak Dock repairs or money for a second phase of the small boat harbor. He says those should be the borough’s priorities. Plus, the community wants more services than the borough can fund. That mean’s one thing, he said: raising taxes.
“I’m to the point where I get calls, everyone else gets calls, we get emails, we get letters, and what I hear from everybody is ‘We want funding. We want funding,’” Campbell said. “The only control we have to fund stuff right now in our grasp we either have to take it from somebody else in our budget or we have to take it from the citizens. The citizens have said they want it, so this is how we get it. We raise taxes.”
Sosa has already proposed a tax increase but Campbell proposed an even bigger hike. It seemed like an outlandish proposal, especially from the usually fiscally conservative Campbell. Ron Jackson seconded it for the sake of discussion, he said. The discussion then went on for more than an hour.
Assembly member Diana Lapham said she was shocked at the idea. She said the suggestion might have some merit, but that it was disruptive to throw out such a proposal at a meeting without first going to the manager or staff to suss out the idea.
“With this you have effectively caused a standstill as far as I’m concerned on this ordinance,” Lapham said. “I wished you had at least talked to the manager or mayor before this meeting. I’m kind of disappointed.”
All the discussion didn’t produce a tangible result – the motion to increase taxes any more was voted down unanimously. Even Campbell opposed it.
In the end, a motion from Joann Waterman did gain traction. She proposed having the borough staff comes up with ways to fund HARK – by either raising taxes a little or using funds from elsewhere.
“I feel my job as an assembly member is to garner from my history in the community and listen to the constituents and I have and filter through what those important levels are.”
That idea was approved by the assembly by a vote of 5 to 1, with Campbell opposed.
The budget ordinance will have another public hearing at the next assembly meeting.
A proposal to waive docking fees for cruise ships in coming years was also introduced and referred to the commerce committee for work. That committee is planning to meet Tuesday but hasn’t set a time yet.