More than $800,000 in budget vetoes by Mayor Charlie Pierce stand after a special meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Friday night.
By a slim 5-4 margin, the assembly approved more funding for both the school district and and tourism marketing during the regular budget process. Pierce vetoed more than $650,000 the assembly approved for additional funding for schools. Much of that funding was supposed to go to additional counselors in the district, reflecting a need for more mental health services in public schools. Assembly member Hal Smalley sponsored the amendment that added that money to the budget.
“Elementary counseling is not a new idea. It’s everywhere. It’s slowly coming here. It needs to be here. As we’ve heard, the schools are dealing with the issues that children come to school with, that left unhelped, those students are those that are bullied. And then those bullies grow up and they come back and they have done some pretty horrific things across our country in our schools, to students and staff. And we say ‘bah, that can’t happen here’. Bethel, Alaska. Look it up.”
Smalley was referring to a school shooting that occurred in Bethel in 1997 that left one student and the principal dead and two other students injured. The 5-4 vote was identical to the one cast during the budget session. But to override a veto, six votes are needed.
That additional vote wasn’t found to override a veto of tourism and marketing funding, either. The Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council had been approved for more than $300,000. Mayor Pierce cut that to an even $100,000. As an assembly member, Pierce consistently voted against funding KPTMC and as mayor, he has sought a different approach to how that organization uses borough dollars. He rejected the notion that his administration wanted to change the terms of the grant under which KPTMC uses its borough funding.
“I mentioned, we would never have vetoed, had this administration been allowed or permitted to manage the money after the fact on this grant. And unfortunately, we’re not able to do that. So we had no intentions to go in and micromanage this grant agreement. It is what it is and I don’t think the story has changed over the last 10 or 15 years. We’re still hearing the same story. I would like to see some measurable terms in the future to where we can honestly look at each other and say hey, we’re really getting something for this money," Pierce said.
That veto also stood by a vote of 5-4.