A split Ketchikan assembly approved the school district’s budget on Monday. Ketchikan’s borough mayor also followed through on a promise to veto funding for a local LGBTQ organization included in the borough’s budget.
School district officials had requested that Ketchikan’s assembly increase its discretionary funding by about $1.1 million over last year to help stabilize its health insurance program. The assembly instead voted to fund all but about $350,000 of the school district’s budget request. That’s a reduction of less than 1% to the district’s $42.6 million budget.
Assembly Member Jeremy Bynum voted against the school district’s spending plan. He said he was frustrated by the district officials’ failure to submit a document outlining details of its budget known as the “green form.”
“We’re not being provided with the appropriate information to make the appropriate decisions about levying taxes to pay for schools,” Bynum said.
Assembly Member David Landis said he was also concerned that the district hadn’t submitted the form. But he said he was generally satisfied with the district’s spending plan.
“I don’t think that there are a lot of places where there’s fat in this budget, but I do think that we absolutely have to have those commitments held to,” Landis said.
The $350,000 reduction from the district’s original request allowed the assembly to avoid dipping below a $2 million minimum balance in its education fund. But Mayor Rodney Dial warned that without changes, the dwindling fund could mean tough choices are ahead.
“I believe it’s more important than ever. We are now at that point where there is no more to take out of that fund without going below the $2 million floor, so we have some big issues coming forward,” Dial said.
The school district budget passed by a 5-2 vote with Bynum and Assembly Member A.J. Pierce opposed.
In other business, Dial followed through on a threat to veto roughly $1,600 in borough funding for a Ketchikan LGBTQ nonprofit. In a letter announcing the veto, Dial said he was concerned that funding the Ketchikan Pride Alliance would amount to picking a side on a political issue.
“I am vetoing the appropriation for the Ketchikan Pride Alliance because it represents a departure from the historical practice of the Borough; it will create division where none previously existed and because it deprives citizens of the deliberative process to thoroughly debate the issues KPA advocates for,” Dial wrote.
The group’s president, Sheen Davis, said that the 501(c)(3) organization was expressly forbidden by the federal tax code from engaging in political activity. She said the group focuses on education and outreach for LGBTQ community members.
“We assisted in the intervention of a teenage suicide here in Ketchikan at the hospital,” Davis said. “We assisted with that with less than $10. Just think what we could do with the full amount.”
Community member Morgan Weber asked Dial to reconsider.
“By choosing to veto grant funding, accounting for an insignificant percentage of the overall grants awarded, the message presented is clear. It communicates that we are not welcome here on this stage and in this community,” Weber said.
The Ketchikan Pride Alliance grant was included in a package of roughly $390,000 in grants to local nonprofits included in the borough’s overall spending plan. The $64 million borough budget passed unanimously.
The assembly could override Dial’s veto with a five-member supermajority at its next meeting.