The Ketchikan Gateway Borough is cutting a little under 5 percent from its general fund budget to reduce what was predicted to be a $1 million deficit. What does that mean, though, for services to the community?
During a presentation to the Borough Assembly last week, Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao gave some details, department by department.
Two positions in finance and planning that are empty now will not be filled. Gubatayao said while there are no “extra” positions in the borough, the departments will adjust to smaller staff levels. But, the public might notice a difference, especially in the Planning Department.
“There’s a lot of personalized service at the counter right now, and they get a lot of positive comments from the public for that,” she said. “Particularly during the time that they’re trying to publish the packet for the Planning Commission meetings, it may be difficult to provide that same level of personalized service at the counter.”
At the Animal Protection Department, there also will be an open position left vacant. Gubatayao said that will mean less flexibility with after-hours response, and some reduction in outreach efforts.
At the borough’s Gateway Recreation Center, some programs that are less popular will be cut.
“The winter break camp is being eliminated. Free preschool tours and free swims are being eliminated,” she said. “And then another significant piece is this item about the facilities closing two hours early in June, July and August.”
Gubatayao said use of the center does go down in the summer months, when people take advantage of better weather and longer days for outdoor activities. But, she said, there is a dedicated group of early morning exercisers, so cutting hours at the end of the day made more sense.
And at the transit department – which operates the public bus system –fares will double from $1 to $2 per ride, and the “ride free” month in April will be cut.
The Assembly in general favored the proposed budget adjustments, although there was some concern that raising bus fares would lead to decreased ridership.
Assembly Member Glen Thompson suggested that the Ketchikan School District consider a similar overall budget-cutting effort. Superintendent Robert Boyle had talked to the Assembly earlier in that meeting about likely state cuts to public education, and the possible need to dip into the borough’s school district reserve fund.
“We’ve asked our staff to do a 95 percent rule and cut our budget, and they did it,” Thompson said. “Mr. Boyle stood here at the podium tonight and said if they get a 3-percent cut to their budget, they’re going to come back and ask us for more money, which means to raise taxes. This is probably the tip of the iceberg. They need to start looking at their own 95 percent rule on the school side.”
The Ketchikan School District is funded largely by the state – which is working through its own huge budget deficit — but there is a significant local contribution, as well, funded through property taxes.
The proposed borough budget cuts are not yet final. They will be included in the draft FY2018 budget to be presented to the Borough Assembly later this spring.