If the Ketchikan Gateway Borough maintains its current spending levels, it faces a projected $1 million deficit this year, and with no changes will pretty much run out of money by 2022.
New Borough Manager Ruben Duran told the Borough Assembly Friday that, with that in mind, he’s directed borough departments to cut general fund spending by 10 percent, to see how much that affects services.
He says those cuts will be among a menu of options that borough staff will present to the Assembly during its second meeting in March.
“Also, and by the way if you do the math it’s not enough, look at some of the revenues of what we’re collecting and how we’re collecting it, and the exemptions associated with that, and reviewing that also,” he said. “That’s also the type of thing we’ll be talking about in March.”
During the budget discussion, which kicked off the Assembly’s two-day policy planning session, Duran said his goal is to eliminate the deficit over several years.
In the meantime, the deficit can be covered by borough reserves.
Duran says they’ll work to keep cuts reasonable, but there likely will be some reductions that are unpopular.
“And they’re going to be difficult,” he said. “You’re going to hear some things that are going to reduce programs, where you’ll have folks back in this room in April going, ‘What are you doing?’”
Among the specific budget items the Assembly talked about was the community agency grant program, which is funded through the borough’s economic development fund. That fund has been running low.
During public comment, former Assembly Member Bill Rotecki urged the Assembly to maintain grant funding for nonprofits, because of the valuable services they provide to the community. He argued that the grants are an investment that more than pay for themselves.
But, Assembly Member Glen Thompson says it’s inappropriate for the Assembly to provide some, if not all, of those grants, especially through the economic development fund.
“We are calling health and social welfare grants economic development, and I believe that’s inappropriate and have for many, many years,” he said. “Not that they’re not good programs, but we don’t really have the authority by the voters to do that. We’re able to call it economic development because anything this Assembly says is economic development is how it goes.”
Thompson and other Assembly members asked for more information about the economic impact of nonprofit agencies that receive borough grants. Borough Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao said she can gather that information for a later meeting.
The Assembly also discussed how best to allocate the borough’s share of the state cruise passenger head tax.
The Assembly made no decisions, but members indicated they would like more allocated to the airport and to emergency responders; and they would like more information about how much the recreation center is used by people related to the cruise industry – including crew members and seasonal workers.
Also on Friday’s work session agenda was discussion of a local-bidder preference; property tax exemptions; road development; planning and zoning enforcement; and transportation.
Saturday’s half-day session is dedicated to school district funding and will include members of the Ketchikan School Board.
The meeting in Assembly Chambers at the White Cliff building starts at 9 a.m. Saturday. It is open to the public, and can be watched on local public access channels and through the borough website’s livestream.