While other municipalities in the state are struggling with large deficits and painful cuts, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly voted Monday to add more money to education than requested by the School Board, and to increase nonprofit grants to a half-dozen local organizations.
The assembly then approved the school district and borough budgets in first reading. Both items will come back for public hearings and a second vote.
During a work session to discuss the school district budget, Assembly Member Stephen Bradford noted that a few years ago, the assembly and school board agreed on a formula for local school funding.
He said that through that formula, the borough has about $8.9 million this year for public education. But, the school board has requested nearly $360,000 less.
“I think we should generally expect that this fund should operate as it was originally intended: The school district would make the financial decisions on the entire amount of inflow into the local education fund in a year,” he said. “They don’t have to spend it if they don’t want to. They may not.”
The school district is allowed to carry over the equivalent of 5 percent of its budget into the next fiscal year if there are unspent funds.
Assembly member Sue Pickrell disagreed with Bradford’s proposal. She said the board brought a budget to the assembly with a specific funding level. She questioned the logic of providing more than requested.
“I think it’s wrong to put forward something that the school district has not even asked for,” she said. “I feel like I’m in the Twilight Zone and somebody has reversed the reality of what’s been programmed. I won’t vote for this.”
Bradford’s amendment and then the main motion passed 4-2 with Pickrell and Alan Bailey voting no both times. Assembly Member Rodney Dial was absent.
During discussion of the borough budget, Pickrell proposed increasing community agency grant awards for Love In Action, First City Homeless Services, Rendezvous Senior Day Services and Women in Safe Homes.
That passed 4-1. Assembly Member Judith McQuerry abstained, and AJ Pierce voted no. That vote increases borough spending by about $30,000 total.
Bailey then proposed increasing grant awards for First City Players and Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council. That motion passed 5-1 with Pickrell voting no. That increases borough costs by about $11,000.
The one successful cut was proposed by Bradford: To eliminate grant funding for summer school libraries. He said that’s an education function and should be paid for by the school district.
Former city library director Judith McQuerry agreed.
“This really, really does belong in the school district budget. It really should not ever have become part of the assembly,” she said. “It did about 20 years ago because the school district said they couldn’t possibly afford it, but now they can.”
That grant totals about $3,800. Cutting it passed unanimously, as did the main motion.
Also Monday, the assembly unanimously agreed to start negotiating the purchase of Alaska Mental Health Trust land in the Mountain Point area.
The next assembly meeting is May 21.