Kodiak Island Borough Assembly members balked at passing a half-mill property tax increase Thursday and instead delayed approval of the borough budget to a special meeting on June 9, just one day before the budget is required to be in place.
Several assembly members argued for no property tax increase at all, suggesting specific borough services should be cut instead.
“Our economy has been impacted,” assembly member Chris Lynch said. “That is why I would like to keep the mill rate at 10.5.”
Lynch suggested a borough hiring freeze, cutting animal control services and slashing the travel budget for the assembly, mayor and manager, among other cuts.
Assembly member Louise Stutes backed keeping the mill rate level and also supported cutting travel expenses and borough staff.
“I believe the whole assembly was unanimous in saying that everybody needs to tighten their belt,” Stutes said. “There’s no question about that. Times are getting tough and money is getting skinnier.”
Also in favor of leaving the mill rate at 10.5 was assembly member Sue Jeffrey.
“I think that we as an assembly need to lead by example,” Jeffrey said. “We are asking the school district to tighten their belt. We of course are asking the general public to accept the tighter situation that we are in. When you’ve had a bad season you have to tighten your belt, and that’s were we are at right now.”
The allocation suggested by Lynch would have funded the school district to a level of about $9 million, which raised red flags for assembly member Judy Fulp.
“I asked the assembly in a memo to please raise the appropriation for the school district to $10.3 million,” Fulp said. “That’s giving them a little bit of hope.”
She urged balance and compromise in the borough budget.
“I am for excellence in education,” Fulp said. “We cannot continue to have excellence in education if we continue to flat-fund the school district. For the past two years they’ve been flat funded, basically.”
The vote to keep the mill rate at 10.5 mills came down to a 3-3 tie vote with Borough Mayor Jerome Selby stepping in to defeat the motion.
After a public hearing, the assembly voted to take another week to iron out the budget.
“Obviously to the public, and certainly to all of us here, we need to have more discussion, so I support postponing it,” Jeffrey said.
In other business, the assembly dispensed with raising the severance tax, pegging it to the mill rate as it has been in the past. However, they moved the revenue generated by the severance tax to the general fund.
The assembly also debated an increase to the disposal fee for residential garbage, opting to leave the fee as is and take up the issue again when a contract between the borough and Alaska Waste has been finalized and signed.
Borough manager Rick Gifford said negotiations dealing with a letter of credit had delayed the borough signing the contract. He said it will be signed in time for the assembly’s next meeting.
Mirror writer Wes Hanna can be reached via email at email@example.com.