Petersburg officials are hoping to put aside hundreds of thousands of dollars next year for future projects or purchases. Increased tax revenue expected in the new borough could make that possible, according to an early draft of the borough’s budget. The borough assembly last week started work sifting through a proposed borough budget.
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A budget work session in late March lasted nearly three hours with assembly members and staff going line by line through the municipality’s general fund and harbor budgets. In the general fund, departments and functions paid for mainly by taxes, spending is expected to reach 10 million dollars. That’s offset by increased revenue in property and sales tax in the upcoming year – both are expected to top three million dollars, due in part to the additional property and purchases within the new expanded boundaries of the borough. The local government is also expecting an increase in money from the state next year.

Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht and his staff outlined the early draft budget for the assembly. “Now is the time to tell us if we have to make substantial changes to this budget before it’s presented to you the first meeting in May, to basically start the voting process on,” Giesbrecht said.

The budget anticipates allocating more raw fish tax money to the harbor department, decreasing a subsidy to the assisted living facility and setting aside 437,000 dollars for the property development fund. That money has been used for land purchases and some infrastructure projects.

Meanwhile, spending in the harbor department is expected to top two point three million dollars, including some small capital projects and money set aside to eventually replace existing harbors and docks. Borough officials have been trying to budget for the cost of depreciation, or replacing older infrastructure.

Harbor master Glorianne Wollen hoped that many of the harbor facilities would not have to be replaced anytime soon. “Brand new float system in 2004 in the South Harbor. The Middle Harbor is brand spankin new as of 2008. The North Harbor brand spanking new as of next month. We’ve gone through and done all of the anode protection in the South Harbor now, all of the anode protection on the crane dock. Things are in pretty good shape.”

The department plans to add a new work float for trollers in the new North Harbor this year, repurpose and old float to be used for kayak storage and upgrade the fish cleaning float at the South Harbor boat ramp. That’s on top of the large grant funded capital projects underway in the harbors this year.

The assembly also went through budgets for departments in the general fund, things like the library, parks and rec, police fire and administration.

The discussion briefly turned to concerns over fire protection outside of downtown Petersburg, in light of the March 4 fire at Crystal Lake hatchery.

Borough manager Giesbrecht noted it was a bigger discussion about police and fire response within the new borough and how to pay for additional equipment and possibly staff. “The question is how big a response do you want? How do you wanna pay for it and what’s the right way to attack that. Is it a service area issue or should it be covered under the four mil (property tax) rate that’s currently being provided. Becomes a pretty big conversation at the assembly level.”

Assemblyman John Havrilek wanted to build up borough reserves for an emergency or projects and also expressed interest in reducing a one point eight million dollar payment to the school district. The assembly got into a discussion about community service payments made to the schools and several other organizations, including KFSK. The overall amount is just under two million dollars – with most going to the school. Other funding goes to the museum, the chamber of commerce and Mountain View manor food service. Several assembly members questioned payments totaling 85,000 dollars to Petersburg mental health services. Assembly member Jeigh Stanton Gregor owns a private mental health counseling business. “From a small business owner, we’re accountable for everything and it’s money,” Stanton Gregor said. “And to not see an accountability for that money’s being spent I do have a problem with, just from an accounting point of view, because it is a lot of money. As opposed to just giving someone money to go hire another staff and that’s more or less the money’s for is to go hire a staff.”

Meanwhile Cindi Lagoudakis wondered what kind of reporting the assembly needed. “What does accountability mean to you? What would they need to provide? They do provide us reports and they do provide us some financial information periodically and are we going to hold them to a different standard than we do Clausen Museum, KFSK or anybody else that we have funded in the past?”

Manager Giesbrecht explained how counselors helped police chief Kelly Swihart in responding to people with mental health issues in the community. “You know they’re not necessarily breaking the law. His guys can only do so much, his guys and girls, can only do so much. Petersburg Mental Health fills that little hole in the sense that it allows us to take a sworn officer and kind of hand off and say they now talk to this person. So Kelly’s officers can go back to doing what they’re paid to do. It doesn’t take very many of these folks to be a huge drain on the city’s resources.”

The assembly didn’t make any decisions on the budget. Under the new borough government, the budgeting process takes three readings of an ordinance, instead of one reading of a resolution under the old city government. That process is expected to happen in May and early June. The budget covers the fiscal year that starts in July.

The assembly has another work session Tuesday, April 1 at 8 a.m. on budgets for enterprise funds including local utilities like electric, water and waste water and sanitation departments. Assembly members will be giving staff direction for drafting their budgets during a special session after that work session.