Before passing a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the Skagway Assembly is trying to raise revenue and trim expenses as much as possible. The assembly made a few last minutes decisions, including asking most department heads to reduce their budgets by five percent.
The assembly got down to business at a budget workshop in early June.
“We’ve got some fixing to do,” said Mayor Mark Schaefer. “We can’t pass an unbalanced budget.”
Schaefer told the assembly they needed to address an about $1.5 million general fund deficit and a $1.1 million sales tax fund deficit.
Now, the borough is set to have a surplus in the sales tax fund that could cover the deficit in the general fund. That’s according to treasurer Heather Rodig. The assembly reached that balance with a combination of changes.
On the revenue generation side, the assembly moved to reduce the usual winter retail sales tax holiday from six months to two. Steve Burnham Jr. pointed out that when the tax holiday first started in the early 2000s, it was a couple weeks or a month.
“The idea of a sales tax holiday should be more of a holiday and not so much of a six-month vacation,” Steve Burnham said.
Jay Burnham was the only assembly member opposed to the Nov. 1. To Dec. 31 holiday.
“I see it as kind of drastic, from six months to two months is kind of a big jump,” Jay Burnham said.
Another revenue-generating change: utility rate increases. The assembly plans to hike garbage and sewer rates by 10 percent and water rates by five percent.
At the June 8 budget workshop, the assembly came up with the idea of asking borough departments to cut budgets by five percent.
“I know it might be hard for the managers to do a budget and reduce the five percent,” said Monica Carlson “But there’s five percent in there that they can get rid of.”
The assembly acknowledged that it was late in the game to make this request. Borough manager Scott Hahn said he would ask department heads to get as close to a five percent cut as they could.
At the assembly’s regular meeting Thursday, they saw a budget with those reductions. Administration, the library and the museum had cut exactly five percent from their spending plans. Others, like the police and fire departments, had smaller reductions.
The assembly did change some of those proposals. They pushed back on cuts to public works and any proposed reductions to pay.
There are some capital projects the assembly plans to postpone to save money. For example, they removed funding for Broadway sidewalk repairs and a comprehensive plan.
The assembly did add $20,000 back into the budget for something that garnered significant public support: a climate action plan.
One resident, Will Godbey, spoke against spending money on what he called ‘CO2 alarmism.’
“All I can say is it’s scare tactics,” Godbey said. “People want to control you by saying ‘the sky is falling, the sky is falling, follow us.'”
But Assemblyman Steve Burnham Jr. agreed with more than 30 residents who signed a petition urging Skagway leaders to start thinking about climate change now. He said the plan would start with a baseline study of greenhouse gas emissions in Skagway.
“I think if we turn our back on the possibilities of the future we’re turning our back on future citizens of Skagway,” Burnham said. “We’re not doing what we’re supposed to do as far as forward-looking planning and decisions.”
The assembly OK’d the $20,000 for a climate action plan in a 4-2 vote.
Because of all the budget revisions made Thursday night, the assembly decided to hold a special meeting to conduct one more reading of the spending plan. That meeting is June 21 at 7 p.m.
The assembly also postponed two executive sessions: one to continue the borough manager evaluation and another to discuss police chief duties with Chief Ray Leggett. Those are now set for the June 21 meeting.