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Proposed Borough Budget Cuts
by Dave Kiffer


April 07, 2004

I just thought I would take a minute to let sitnews readers have a heads up regarding likely borough budget cuts this summer.

There is no question that the borough is in tough shape financially, there are a variety of reasons for this but it serves no purpose to rehash things that the current borough assembly can do nothing about. The only issue is how the assembly improves the borough financial picture. There are several projects in the planning stage that will improve things, such as the sale of the Gateway Club building to the state troopers and the moving of state ferry system administrative employees to Ward Cove, but they - and other projects such as a regional cold storage, a regional ethanol plant and the restarting of the Veneer Mill - are too far down the road to help us out this year.

We have some tough choices to make and I think it is fair to say that in addition to a proposed sales tax hike of .5 percent and a potential .5 mill property tax increase, the assembly is looking at cutting back in several areas.

One of those areas is community grants to local non-profits. Currently, the borough provides approximately $800,000 a year to those groups. Crucial services are received by the members of this community through those grants, but we have reached a point where the borough can probably no longer continue to provide that level of funding. Does that mean that all the grants will be terminated. Maybe, maybe not. The assembly is very sharply divided now on whether to reduce or eliminate the grants. Public input is essential.

Another area being looked at is bus service. This is a difficult one because a long, skinny, and wet community like Ketchikan needs public transportation. The question is how much can the community afford and what level should the borough subsidize a service that will never pay for itself through ridership fees. Some cuts are likely, the question is how much and where to make the system more self-supporting. Once again, public input is essential.

The borough's largest line item is the money that goes to run the school district. Last year, the borough didn't give the maximum amount it can under the law and that was very controversial. This year, the school district is asking the borough to "fund to the cap." There are also projected cost increases in other school funding that the borough provides the school system such as insurance and bond debt service. On top of the that both the school system and the borough are looking at significant cost increases in retirement programs. Suffice it to say, that to "fund to the cap" would require a significant increase over last year's appropriation to the school system, well above and beyond the $500,000 that the borough "underfunded" the schools last year. I can't say this too often...public input is essential!

There are other areas that the borough is looking at for staff and budget cuts to balance our budget, but those are the main starting points. No decision should be made in a vacuum and too often local government only hears from a few people at budget time. And usually those people are those that are directly affected by any proposed cuts. The decisions that the assembly makes at budget time affect all the citizens of the borough. We need to hear from all of you starting now and all the way to the end of June! We need to know what you think the priorities are. It's your future. Please get in touch.

Dave Kiffer
Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly
Ketchikan, AK - USA



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