Members of the Haines Borough Assembly still disagree on a few key parts of the upcoming fiscal year’s budget. The group met Thursday to go over police, economic development and nonprofit funding. They didn’t come to a clear consensus on any of the issues. The budget is set for a vote Tuesday.
One of the biggest changes in the proposed FY 18 budget is in the police department. New police chief Heath Scott says in order to create a sustainable department, they need a fifth officer.
“There’s something wrong,” Scott said. “We’re doing something wrong. We need to fix it. Law enforcement, just like the private sector, needs to grow and evolve.”
The proposed budget also adds more overtime and standby hours, which puzzled Assemblyman Tom Morphet.
Chief Scott explained with the salary the borough offers, it’s likely that if they were to hire a fifth officer, he or she would be new to police work. He said that’s one reason to budget extra overtime and standby — because the fifth officer might need a lot of training in that first year, putting more responsibility on the others.
The more than $100,000 increase in police expenses would deplete some of the townsite’s savings. Morphet said, if the budget is approved, the assembly should explore an alcohol tax to offset the cost.
“Because I think a lot of the police budget, the cost of police, start with alcohol use,” Morphet said. “Because I’m afraid that this will, in time, become an increased tax burden on the townsite service area.”
Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer supported the police request. But she was confused about whether her fellow assembly members would end up voting for it.
“Are we funding this or not? Are we cool?” Friedenauer asked. “You know, we hired a police chief and I’m not going out polling people about whether they want more police coverage or not. People voted for me, and I can tell them what I think: I want a fully-funded, effective police department. Period.”
The fate of the budget was also unclear when it came to economic development.
A group of Haines business leaders have an economic development proposal for the borough. They recently formed a private non-profit called the Haines Economic Development Corporation.
The HEDC is requesting $95,000 in borough funding to get off the ground. The money would come from the one percent tourism and economic development sales tax, which has been underutilized in recent years.
“The borough has set aside money for economic development,” said HEDC board president Kyle Gray. “And we’re offering to do this for the government with a plan that we feel very strongly about being successful.”
But a few assembly members questioned how a group receiving such a large amount of public money would be accountable to the public.
“I am feeling that the community should be weighing in on both the desirability and direction of this before really anything happens,” said Tresham Gregg. “There are other concepts that we could follow towards economic development.”
Interim manager Ryan pointed out that it’ll be up to the assembly and manager to write a contract with the HEDC. He said a process for public accountability can be written into that agreement.
As for nonprofit funding, assembly members Morphet and Friedenauer disagreed on the best approach to follow. Morphet supported continuing the ‘community chest’ model: a certain amount of borough money set aside that nonprofits can apply for.
“These groups provide vital services,” Morphet said. “And they do it for a fraction of the cost that the government or the private sector can deliver them at.”
“I don’t want to support a budget line that says ‘nonprofits,'” Friedenauer said.
She said it would be cleaner to earmark money for certain services, and then let nonprofits submit proposals to provide those services. An example would be Haines Friends of Recycling applying for borough funding to do household hazardous waste collection.
“I don’t want to do this [community chest] model again, because it’s too vague, it’s too broad,” Friedenauer said. “We’re not giving taxpayers enough information about where their money is going.”
Whether enough assembly members can come to a budget agreement remains to be seen. Since the fiscal year starts in July, the spending plan needs to be approved by June 15.