The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly decided to not decide quite a bit Monday, choosing instead to delay voting on numerous issues.
Assembly members indefinitely postponed action on a proposed change to the structure fee for North Tongass Fire and EMS Service Area residents, at the request of the service area.
The Assembly also postponed a vote on an increase to South Tongass Service Area water fees; delayed action on a cost-of-living adjustment for non-union employees; and put off voting on a resolution in favor of a state bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Assembly members did approve first readings of the school district and borough budgets. But they didn’t do any of the usual tweaking, choosing to wait until later.
Why all the delays? Blame lies partly with the Legislature. The state budget is still in limbo, and lawmakers are in recess for the time being. So, there are no clear answers regarding local budget issues, especially education funding.
Assembly Member Glenn Thompson said, “I think that the biggest thing that we need to address in our budget is going to be the school district budget. It’s going to be difficult for us to address the school district budget within the time frame that we’re allotted. We may be flying a little bit blind on this.”
If state funding for education continues to be in question when it comes time to adopt both budgets, Thompson said the Assembly could approve spending plan to keep things running, then make adjustments later.
The question at this point is whether the Legislature will maintain a cut to the Base Student Allocation. If that cut stands, Superintendent Robert Boyle told the Assembly the Ketchikan School District will have to fill a $320,000 hole.
The total school district budget is about $39.2 million. That includes a proposed local funding level of nearly $8.5 million.
Also on Monday, the Assembly rejected a proposed sales-tax holiday for October 3rd – the first Saturday after the Permanent Fund Dividend is distributed.
The vote was 3-4, with Thompson and Assembly Members Alan Bailey, Mike Painter and Todd Phillips voting no.
Phillips, who owns a downtown retail business that he said would have benefitted from the sales tax holiday, explains that this year is a tough one for the borough.
“I think we’d rather have the money in place, and to help some of the possible grants that are going to be coming forward to people who are really going to need the money, as opposed to hoping for a sale,” he said. “I’d rather put the money to where it needs to be.”
Representatives of numerous local nonprofit organizations spoke during public comment earlier in the meeting, asking the Assembly to maintain grants to their organizations. Those nonprofits range from arts organizations to senior services.
Assembly Member John Harrington spoke in favor of the sales tax holiday. He argues that it’s a way to encourage people to spend their PFDs locally, and maybe bring people from neighboring islands. Harrington said that kind of cash infusion helps everyone.
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst estimated sales tax revenue that would not be collected on a tax holiday could reach $80,000.
The next Borough Assembly meeting is May 18.