The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly added $300,000 in local funding to the school district budget Monday before approving the document in second reading.
School funding was the big topic on the agenda, and generated quite a bit of discussion. The gap between what School District officials asked for and what the borough proposed giving was about $631,000. Assembly Member Bill Rotecki proposed the amendment, thus meeting them halfway.
“I chose that as approximately half of the $631,000 for the school district budget,” he said. “I would prefer to fund them the full $631,000, but knowing that they have a considerable excess, leftover from last year. They could, with that excess, I hope, reach that $631,000.”
Assembly Member Alan Bailey, speaking in support of the amendment, said he’s torn on the topic of taxes.
“This is a very difficult thing to vote upon,” he said. “And here I am again reminded of those people who may not have that opportunity. And I want those people to have that opportunity, because I know the cost to their life, the cost to their future, if they are not given a decent education. I’m sure I’ll be getting tons of phone calls on this one, but that’s not as important as doing the right thing. And I believe this is the right thing to do.”
The amendment squeaked by on a 3-3 vote, with Mayor Dave Kiffer breaking the tie in favor of the additional funds. Assembly Members Agnes Moran, Glen Thompson and Todd Phillips voted no.
The main motion then passed 4-2, with Moran and Thompson voting no.
The district budget now tops $42 million, with a little more than $8 million from the borough. That’s nearly $4 million more than the minimum required by state law.
Later, while talking about the overall borough budget, the Assembly discussed the potential need to raise the mill rate. The borough already has proposed raising property taxes by a half mill.
Thompson suggested some possible new revenue, or savings that the borough could find in various departments. Among his ideas is raising fees at the recreation center, and cutting the reception local officials traditionally have hosted during Ketchikan’s lobbying trip to Juneau.
Bailey said raising the mill rate seems inevitable. He reminded listeners that the Assembly cut property taxes a few years ago.
“We cannot sustain our current existing operations with the existing mill rate as it stands,” he said. “I do not believe that at all.”
The Assembly postponed action on the borough budget. Staff will bring it back with some suggested changes at the next meeting, set for June 3.