If the final picture of what next year’s borough budget will look like isn’t clear, at least the points of debate are coming into focus.
Borough mayor Charlie Pierce is promising a balanced budget that doesn’t include any new taxes. In order to do that, the assembly will have to approve his plan to draw $4.5 million from the borough’s roughly $7 million Land Trust Fund. There are also likely to be some proposed cuts.
Pierce didn’t offer any numbers Wednesday afternoon at a joint meeting of the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce, but he hinted at possible changes in funding for some economic development line items, including tourism and marketing.
“It’s a challenging process. Obviously you want to have tourists here. You want to do your part. We have made some recommendations to the agencies that advertise tourism and marketing. There’s been folks that have requested that the process be bidded; take contractual bids on providing that service and we’re considering that.”
The Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council gets that business from the borough now. Its funding was reduced last year to a little more than $300,000. Pierce says there are other, less costly ways to entice visitors here to spend money.
“You know, there are new tools in the marketplace that we need to be receptive in utilizing and one of them is called Facebook. There are ways to make money on Facebook. We would appreciate those agencies that we are delivering your tax dollars to to be receptive to hearing that opportunity and trying it.”
He says that type of spending shouldn’t be prioritized over spending on things like education.
“We’ve heard the 4-to-1 the 5-to-1 ratios on the dollars spent on tourists and I believe many of those numbers are true. At the same time, I think that today, when you’re deciding whether you’re going to fund a teacher in a school or pay for a brochure that’s going to sit in the end of a rack in a store and hope that someone is going to pick it up and make a selection to come to Alaska on it, I’m going to educate the child first. I’m going to take care of that teacher first.”
And while the administration decides how much of a priority attracting tourists should be, Pierce says they have a new focus on attracting businesses.
“We’ve prepared a letter. And we’re getting ready to ship it out to the Fortune 1000 companies in America. We’re going to introduce the Kenai Peninsula Borough. If we pick up one or two hits, it’s called cold calling. It’s called marketing and we’re going to go out and we’re going to brag about ourselves and we’re going to send a picture of who we are. Maybe we’ll pick up some new business, maybe we won’t.”
The assembly will have its first look at the mayor’s proposed budget on April 24th. The first public hearing on the budget is set for May 1st.