Assembly passes 2021 budget

Jun 3, 2020

The borough assembly passed its fiscal year 2021 budget late last night with few major changes, but plenty of debate about those changes.

The approved budget provides about $82.8 million in general fund expenditures, which pay for services like general government operations and the borough’s contribution to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District. This year, that contribution is $50 million, a little more than $2 million below the maximum amount the borough could have contributed by statute.

Before the coronavirus pandemic began, the borough administration had agreed to fund to the school district to the maximum amount. School district chief financial officer Dave Jones said that changed after the pandemic began because the borough is trying to plan for losses in tax revenue, which the school district understands. The lower amount will create a deficit in the school district’s budget, though.

“The good thing is though that in working with the mayor that they've given us assurances that if the borough's CARES act funding comes through and allows them to address some of the sales tax loss issues and the revenue side issues that the mayor has assured us that then they will restore the funding to us to where they had previously committed to at the allowable cap,” he said.

The school district transfer is the single large line item in the general fund budget each year. Many of the borough’s other services, like roads and Central Emergency Services, are paid through individual service areas and individual property tax rates. These are added to the overall mill rate and, for city residents, the city mill rate, which makes the total amount of property tax you pay vary widely from place to place depending on where you live.

The assembly ran out of time Tuesday night at midnight, when its meetings are required to end, and had to continue on Wednesday afternoon to set the mill rate. The assembly voted to hold the line on the current general mill rate of 4.7 and to keep all the other service areas flat, though they did vote to increase the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area by about .1 mills in line with a request from that service area board.
The only line item that drew extensive debate Tuesday night was a relatively small one in the larger scheme of the budget—tourism marketing and peninsula promotion. Since the early 1990s, the assembly has given fund to the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, which uses them to produce printed and digital advertising to bring in tourists. But in the past few years, the borough administration and several assembly members have questioned whether KPTMC is actually contributing to visitation and pulled the funding.

Instead, the borough administration wanted to put the funding that had gone to KPTMC in the past out in an request for proposals for others to bid on. Assembly member Norm Blakeley said he is uncomfortable with the way things had been done in the past, as it was like a sole source contract.

“This will be the right thing to do and there are people that do want to bid on it and have bid on it and probably have as much experience and probably more in advertising areas than KPTMC does,” he said.
Assembly member Tyson Cox proposed a series of amendments that put out two $50,000 RFPs—one for marketing the peninsula in general, and the other for branding the peninsula, more along the lines of PR. His third amendment would have given KPTMC specifically $100,000 to continue tourism marketing, as the organization has already been marketing to Alaskans this spring to try to salvage a tourism season amid the pandemic travel restrictions.

“As we start losing it, you lose it today, but you're actually losing marketing for the future. And you can't make that up,” Cox said.

The assembly passed an amendment proposed by assembly member Kenn Carpenter to reduce that amount to $60,000.

Assembly member Jesse Bjorkman tried to amend the road service area budget to cut out about $400,000 and possibly lower the mill rate a smidge. The assembly ultimately rejected this, in part because the cut depended on money coming out of the dust control budget. Bjorkman said the fight over a less than 5 percent decrease in one part of the budget shows how tight the budgets have become over the years.

“We’re kind of definitely feeling the pain of a budget that's been cut and people are vocalizing that they want more services but they also want to pay less taxes,” he said. “And there's no free lunch in this world. There's no free money tree in this world that suddenly sprouts cash and we can just go pluck it off. Certainly not without consequences.”

The new budget will take effect July 1. Full details and documents can be found on the borough’s website under the finance department.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.