Assembly previews budget draft, weighs land and timber sales
As the Legislature was being summoned for special session, Wrangell's Borough Assembly continued to look at its own budget for the coming fiscal year at its Tuesday evening meeting.
The regular meeting was preceded by a workshop on the FY16 budget. The budget Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch presented was balanced using the existing mil tax rate, with services maintained at much the same levels as at present.
Some cuts include smaller items like travel expenses,
supplies and subscriptions, and a reduction in contributions to radio station KSTK and vehicle maintenance services for the Senior Center. More substantial reductions include two
positions, General Fund
contributions to the museum, and the police animal control budget. The Borough will also look into downsizing its motor pool and pursuing reductions
in benefits and insurance
Some positive news from the state and federal government have also buoyed the borough's fiscal spirits. Cuts to jail
funding are less substantial than initially planned, reducing state allocations from $591,000 to $390,000 instead of $269,000. Jail staff also double as 911 dispatchers, and Jabusch reported no positions will be cut from the facility.
And with good news from Washington D.C., Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office reported Tuesday that renewed Secure Rural Schools funding will bring $1,052,000 to Wrangell schools.
In addition, compared to other communities in the state, Wrangell is among the least indebted communities per capita.
“I'm reasonably optimistic,” Jabusch said. While state cutbacks will still pose challenges moving ahead, he said the
community is in a fair position to deal with them. “I think we can make it all work.”
Staff will continue to work on the draft budget in a series of workshops and meetings over the coming month.
Jabusch also announced that an Alaska Wildlife Trooper position that was to be cut will be reinstated, following a strong response from members of the community. The previous trooper was transferred to Juneau in January, and the vacant position was slated to be among those cut across the state as a cost saving measure.
In its regular meeting
business, Assembly members listened to testimony from Bill Willard of the
Wrangell Cooperative Association (WCA) Transportation Office and
businessman Brett Woodbury, both of whom would like to
acquire the same industrial
park lots, 6A and 5A,
Willard explained the
property, along with a
nearby lot, would be ideal
for building a permanent shop and offices for the program
he directs. At the moment,
the WCA's equipment has
no permanent place for
Woodbury owns the lots adjacent on the block and would like the space for storing and working on his
Speaking in support of Willard and on behalf of WCA, Aaron Angerman told the Assembly that the Tribe is an important facet of the
community's economy and its character, and that its
roads department is a shared asset.
“We need some permanence, and I think this structure would provide us some,” he said.
While the lots have both been assessed as level but damp, other available lots across the roadway would be more difficult to build on, with the topography described by appraisers as “wet” or “very wet.”
If WCA acquired lots 5A and 6A the Borough would need to extend utility access, which Jabusch estimated could cost around $66,000, about the appraised value of both lots. Woodbury has said he would not need utilities, were he to acquire the properties.
“There's advantages and
disadvantages to both,” Jabusch told Assembly members. Options presented before the Assembly included putting
the properties up for bid, selling them to WCA at their appraised value as a government-to-
government transfer or exchanging them with Woodbury for other properties he owns.
“This is generally an
option we don't do or want
to do,” Jabusch said of the latter.
After discussion, Assembly members decided to consult with the retained attorney on the legality of the different options. In the meantime, it was hoped the two parties would come to an agreement before the Assembly's next meeting on May 12.
In other business, the Assembly approved sale of 250,000 board feet of spruce trees to Mike Allen Jr. for $25,000. These are to be
selectively harvested from the southern portion of the former Institute property.
Allen explained the work would take between nine months and a year and would help sustain his lumber
interests here until larger sales are eventually underway. All timber harvested in the
sale would be processed locally.
Taking into consideration the concerns of Randy Oliver, the Assembly added a condition to the sale that several of the larger trees be reserved for future use by the annual July 4 logging show.
Finishing up some old business, Assembly members also approved vacating Silvernail Work Road where it cuts through the boatyard, as well as establishing a deposit for long-term storage reservation there and moorage fees for Meyers Chuck moorage.