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By Dan Rudy 

Assembly eyeing new notch in budgetary belt


“It is going to be a difficult year,” Wrangell's borough manager Jeff Jabusch told Assembly members during their regular meeting Tuesday evening.

He referred to impending cuts to the state revenue sharing and federal Secure Rural Schools programs, which both pose major concerns for the Borough. Jabusch reported the city is working with its new lobbyist to address various funding issues as they arise.

In addition to meeting with the governor and with legislators about revenue sharing, letters have already been dispatched addressing proposed cuts to both Wrangell's vacant Alaska Wildlife Trooper position and city jail. The Assembly also passed a resolution supporting reinstatement of full funding for the state's Harbor Facility Grant Program in the 2016 fiscal year budget.

Speaking on last week's Alaska Municipal League meeting, Assembly member Daniel Blake said they were told by state officials much the same thing, that the $60 million revenue sharing fund will dwindle to nothing within a few years and that no capital improvement projects can be hoped for. Cuts elsewhere can be expected across the board.

“There's no department that's not across the chopping block,” Blake said.

“We are going to suffer because of that, along with all the other cities in Alaska,” Jabusch told them. “There are going to be things that affect services, affect outside agencies.”

He said the Borough will have to look into cost-saving measures in this and in future budgets.

“We'll operate within the current tax structure we have,” he said. While as many city jobs will be kept as possible, Jabusch said benefits such as those related to health care may have to be trimmed to curb rising costs.

While in previous years public interest in the yearly budget workshops tend to be low, Jabusch has hopes there will be more participation this year to direct city officials as to what should be preserved or can be done without.

“I think this year it's important the public participates,” he said. A date for that will be set ahead of the budget's completion, expected in mid-April. A workshop with the school board has also been scheduled for March 24 to discuss the schools' facilities and budget.

Wrangell Medical Center's financial situation also continues to be a worry. Assembly member Steven Prysunka was critical of the joint meeting held with hospital staff on Feb. 10, noting no members of the WMC Board had been present.

At a time when the Borough is looking at making cuts, he said it seemed likely the hospital may approach it for assistance covering its operating costs.

“Hospitals are not small-ticket items,” commented Prysunka.

In other business, the Assembly approved replacing a temporary position in the financial department with a permanently part-time one, with benefits. The rationale was to reduce costs related to turnover and also recoup accounts collections that were otherwise being neglected due to manpower constraints.

To offset the costs of the newly created position, Jabusch recommended a $5,000 cut in his own salary to compensate.

Assembly member Julie Decker observed it was highly unusual to see a government official volunteer a salary cut during a financial crisis. “Thank you, Jeff, I appreciate that,” she told him.

Jabusch explained he was not bothered by the salary cut, and that it would be better for the department and benefit the community. “I think that it's something that is needed,” he said of the improved position.

In more positive news, Jabusch announced Wrangell was named the second-safest city in Alaska by Safewise.com, a site which makes its assessments based on crime statistics. Mayor David Jack also presented Clay Hammer, Bob Prunella and Bob Maxand with certificates recognizing their service to the Borough on the Thomas Bay Power Commission.

Bringing to an end a six-month-old piece of business, the Assembly also approved Bay Company's request for the city to vacate the remainder of an alleyway adjacent to the business' property and sell them the land. Assembly member David Powell, Bay Company's manager, abstained from the vote, and the item passed four votes to one.


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