The Haines Borough Assembly hashed out the interim manager’s proposed budget this week in a committee of the whole meeting. Among the discussion items were capital projects and the cruise ship head tax.
Tuesday’s meeting was the last chance for the committee of the whole to discuss the proposed budget before it heads to the first of three public hearings next week. The final budget is scheduled for adoption in mid-June. Assembly members made short work of the list of topics, lingering on only a few. One of them was water and sewer. The plan for refurbishing the waste water treatment plant came up, of course, but rebuilding the shell over the plant still hinges on whether the Legislature leaves in the $1 million earmark in Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget.
Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer then asked about setting money aside to deal with any potential water quality issues.
“Do we have anything we need to plan for as far as lead?” she asked. “It’s kind of a national issue right now and I just want to put it out on the table. Do we have a problem with anything to do with lead in our water supply? And is it anything we need to plan for a study or work on?”
Scott Bradford, the wastewater plant operator, said the borough tests for lead and copper 10 times a year. He said lead is not an issue, but…”Last year we had two copper samples that came back high, over the threshold. That has kicked us into increased testing now where we’re going to be testing 40 times a year,” Bradford said.
Bradford added that, while there’s speculation, they’re not sure why the copper levels are higher than normal.
The subject that garnered perhaps the most debate was the proposed waterfront trail from the Port Chilkoot Dock to the small boat harbor. The budget calls for $45,000 from the Commercial Passenger Vessel Tax fund, which is doled out based on cruise ship passengers and must be used for projects that serve cruise visitors, for the trail design. Part of that chunk would also be used for a new pavilion once Lookout Park is relocated as part of the boat harbor expansion plan.
Here’s Assemblyman George Campbell:
“Again, I disagree with the trail. I’m glad part of (the money) is going to the pavilion, but anything else, I cannot agree with expanding our footprint.”
His main concern is not necessarily that the CPV money is being used for the trail, but the borough could be on the hook for future maintenance. And that’s something the community cannot afford, he said.
“It’s a fallacy to be going after grant money to construct stuff, when we don’t have the income through taxes to pay for maintaining what we have built currently.”
Assembly members Mike Case, Tresham Gregg and Ron Jackson all spoke out in favor of going ahead with the beach path. They said it could offer an incentive for people to visit, thus boosting the local economy.
“The whole thing could be very beautiful and I think it’s an important of our economic draw, our waterfront is,” said Gregg. “I think it’s the very least that we should be doing to enhance our economic well being.”
At the tail end of the 90-minute session, Friedenauer asked for an update on how state funding for the borough is progressing. Jila Stuart, the borough’s Chief Fiscal Officer, said she feels fairly secure when it comes to Haines’ revenue sharing allotment. Last year, the borough got more than $600,000 in state money through the revenue sharing program. Stuart said other chunks, like that from the federal program Payment in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, and the jail contract, are set.
“If we don’t have anything on the expenditures side like PERS, TRS (Public Employees’ Retirement System and Teachers Retirement System) change, then I think we’re sort of close,” Stuart said. “I think it’s important that we remember that the budget is a fluid document from year to year. I mean, if we’re a little under this year, we can make it up another year.”
The first public hearing on the manager’s budget proposal is May 10 at the regular assembly meeting.
To take a closer look at the budget, go here.