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By Dan Rudy 

Assembly approves budget, amends property tax due date

 


Wrangell's City and Borough Assembly has approved its budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The budget was previously issued as a draft at a public workshop on April 28 and has since been subjected to two hearings.

The state of Alaska's finances still casts a shadow of uncertainty over Wrangell's projections. As of Tuesday the Legislature had reconvened in Anchorage for special session but had not yet settled on a final budget. Which items will ultimately face cuts is still in the air as the state tackles its $3.5 billion budget deficit.

General fund expenses in the Borough's budget are projected to exceed revenues by $104,707, though cuts made in the current fiscal year will offset this. Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch has explained that the city has done what it can to trim costs without cutting jobs, significantly impacting services or alter current tax rates.

Jabusch did have some pleasant news from the state: funding for Wrangell's jail will be $42,000 higher than expected. The amount had previously been expected to decrease by over $200,000 from $591,000 to $390,000.

Court renovations, to remodel the facility and improve security, have been budgeted in the amount of $325,000. Though the expenditure registers as causing a deficit balance, Jabusch explained those funds will by repaid with interest by the state court system through its lease of the facility over the next 15 to 20 years.

Opening on a somber note, Tuesday's meeting began with of a moment of silence for resident and former city manager Bob Prunella who passed away earlier that day. The observation was requested by recent high school graduate Molly Prysunka.

During the manager's report, economic development director Carol Rushmore updated the Assembly on soil test results at the former Byford dump site, which showed high levels of lead contamination. The state Department of Environmental Conservation and federal Environmental Protection Agency are working with the city to develop an action plan.

“We're just providing a warning that there could be some contamination,” Rushmore said.

Rushmore said they will decide which measures need to be taken until money becomes available to conduct a full cleanup of the site. A final report on other contaminants is forthcoming, and the cleanup's cost to the Borough is uncertain.

Jabusch explained the property was publicly acquired through foreclosure after the owner stopped paying property taxes. As municipalities in Alaska cannot selectively foreclose on properties, Wrangell had no choice but to accept responsibility.

In a separate issue, Jabusch also warned of potential water concerns following effects of a prolonged dry spell on the city's reservoirs.

“The reservoirs are slowly dropping. It's not at a panic stage yet, but it wouldn't take much,” he said. Residents are being asked to mind water usage for the time being.

The Assembly passed a trio of ordinances on second reading. One amends the Municipal Code to establish a single due date for payment of property taxes to Sept. 15, rather than dividing it between two dates. Interest on late payments was also set to 10 percent annually.

Another ordinance establishes investment in a special fund for maintenance to the community swimming pool. The final ordinance approves a ballot measure for the Oct. 6 regular election which would exempt local officials from the state's public disclosure law.

Assembly members approved final concepts for a master waterfront plan (see article on Page 1). They will weigh in on a financing plan for the Shoemaker Bay Harbor float replacement at their next meeting. The plan was developed by the Port Commission and Harbor Department (see article on Page 5).

Also approved was a contract with Mike Allen Jr. for a temporary use permit to harvest timber owned by the city. Assembly members gave preliminary approval for the sale at its April 28 meeting at the price of $25,000.

The 250,000 board feet of spruce trees approved for harvest will be selectively taken from the southern portion of the former Institute property. Allen explained the work could take between nine months and a year, and the timber would be processed locally.

 

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