Should the Haines Borough have a five-officer police force? Should a newly formed economic development corporation get $95,000 in government funding? How should the borough go about giving money to nonprofits? These are some of the questions the assembly has to decide on next week, in the FY 18 borough budget.
Interim Manager Brad Ryan’s proposed spending plan includes an about $117,000 boost to the police department. It would pay for more overtime hours and a fifth police officer.
Chief Heath Scott, who started last year, has advocated for more financial support for months. He says they need to return to a ‘baseline’ of five officers to avoid burnout and turnover.
“The department has never been set up the right way,” Scott said. “It has never been budgeted the right way.”
But some assembly members say the money may be better spent on things like addiction treatment services, something Haines lacks. Assemblyman Tom Morphet has been skeptical since the beginning, saying five officers didn’t make a perfect police force before.
“For years, we had a five-man police department that had a lot of problems,” Morphet said. “With high turnover and alienation and crimes that didn’t get solved.”
To help offset police expenses, Ryan proposes a small increase in townsite mill rates, a tenth of a percent. But most of the extra police expense will come out of the townsite’s healthy savings account.
Another complication is outside townsite enforcement. Haines Police have more calls to respond to since the Alaska State Troopers pulled out of Haines. The police budget doesn’t include the cost of out-of-town response. There is still no firm proposal from the assembly or community about how to pay for the gap left behind by the trooper.
Now let’s talk about economic development.
One percent of the borough’s 5.5 percent sales tax is dedicated to tourism and economic development. The tax brought in more than $500,000 annually in recent years. But the money is underutilized. Close to $400,000 has built up in that account.
A new organization is offering the borough an outlet to spend some of those savings. The nonprofit Haines Economic Development Corporation is asking for $95,000 in borough funding. The corporation’s board is mostly made up of local business owners. They want to see Haines foster economic development in a more effective way.
“During my time on the assembly, I felt the borough failed at that,” said HEDC board member Doug Olerud. “I felt that the economic development the borough tried to do was not successful, other than tourism.”
The borough has been criticized, most recently by commercial fisherman, for how it uses the one percent tax. The critics say the money unfairly favors tourism over other sectors of the economy.
Interim manager Ryan supports the HEDC’s request. He says holding on to the leftover sales tax money isn’t doing the borough any good.
“My feeling is that this tax has to be spent to have an effect on the community, to have a positive effect,” Ryan said.
But some residents have doubts about giving such a significant amount of public money to this brand new organization.
Heather Lende brought up the disparity in how the HEDC would be funded compared to other nonprofits. She said most nonprofits have to prove themselves before receiving money.
“On most grant-writing committees you’re on, they would say, ‘How much have you put in? What’s your track record?’ before giving a private nonprofit $95,000,” Lende said.
Funding for other nonprofits is also a topic of debate. In the past, the borough has set aside about $60,000 in ‘community chest’ money. Then nonprofits apply for pieces of that pie.
Margaret Friedenauer wants to make the process more focused. She thinks the borough should set aside money for specific purposes, like afterschool programs. Then, that money would be allocated to nonprofits who meet those objectives. But not everyone on the assembly agrees with that approach.
Assembly members have proposed a few other changes to the manager’s budget. Morphet wants to fund a Sunday swim at the pool to the tune of $17,000. Lende wants to give the library an additional $10,000 to pay its employees better. Friedenauer wants to remove lobbying money to offset the cost of nonprofit funding. And Ron Jackson wants to cut the mayor’s salary by more than half.
At a committee meeting this Thursday (5/25), the assembly is poised to delve into three budget topics: police, economic development and nonprofits. If the majority of the members can agree on spending priorities, the budget may be approved at the May 30 meeting.