Petersburg’s mayor Mark Jensen is planning a town hall meeting next week on impacts from the proposed state budget. Officials are hoping to come up with a more complete picture of the potential loss of state revenue and what it would mean to the municipal government, schools and hospital. They also want to hear input from the public about the governor’s proposal.
Alaskans are reacting to Governor Dunleavy’s budget proposal around the state, with more than one and a half billion dollars in spending cuts, elimination of some payments to municipalities and the end of some core services. Among those are the state ferry system which would shut down service October 1st.
At a February 25th assembly meeting, Keene Channel resident Dave Kensinger asked the assembly to lobby against the shutdown of the system.
“It’s going to have a huge impact on all the communities in Southeast Alaska, just from the loss of jobs, let alone from the loss of transportation,” Kensinger said.
A 2016 Alaska Marine Highway System report by the consulting firm McDowell Group found the ferry system employed over 1000 (1017) Alaska residents, with 25 from Petersburg alone. Other Southeast communities would be harder hit, with 39 working for the ferry system from Wrangell, 297 from Juneau and 318 from Ketchikan.
Kensinger also noted the governor’s directive to the Department of Transportation to look at selling, transferring or closing airports.
“Sitka had ran their own airport and then gave it back to the state after it became too difficult for them to keep on doing that,” he said.” That happened quite a few years ago. So a community the size of Sitka could not pull it off, it would be really hard for us to do this, so. That’s something we need to keep track of, otherwise all I can say is everybody needs to buy a kayak.”
Officials are still tallying up the total financial impact to Petersburg from the budget proposal but there are some preliminary numbers. The Alaska Municipal League put out an estimate of direct impacts to Alaska municipalities. For Petersburg that amount is 2.7 million dollars, which includes the end of fish tax payments, the end of debt reimbursement for school projects, and nearly one point four million dollars in education funding cuts. That total doesn’t include potential reduction to Medicaid reimbursement for the medical center.
Assembly member Bob Lynn urged people to look at the AML report, which is posted on the borough’s website.
“This budget affects every municipality in Alaska, some harder than others,” Lynn said. “And the best thing we can do is we don’t want to pit one municipality against another one. It’s very important we don’t do that because we’re all affected. And so if you look at this, some of them are affected a lot more than others are.”
Meanwhile, mayor Mark Jensen is calling a town hall style meeting on the state budget Wednesday March 6.
“I don’t think it’s time to go into panic mode but it’s definitely time to pay attention and there will be some form of cuts coming our way,” Jensen said.
The borough will be taking public input for and against the budget proposal at that meeting.
Jensen was also hoping for more information from Senator Bert Stedman’s office about the impact of cuts.
The budget also zeros out state funding for public radio stations like KFSK, cuts university spending, online library money, adult public assistance, and ends the senior benefit program. It also reduces the budgeted amount for village public safety offices and cuts loan money for Alaskans going into health care careers, cuts pre-kindergarten program money and funding for the state Council on the Arts
Borough manager Steve Giesbrecht noted the AML figure of 2.7 million dollars for Petersburg impacts did not take into account indirect impacts or costs that may have to be passed on by the borough. He cited the proposed end of the school board debt reimbursement.
“For everybody here who owns a home in Petersburg, that just raises your taxes by 1.7 mills, I think (finance director) Jody (Tow) did the numbers for me, in service area one,” Giesbrecht said. “So that’s the kind stuff that’s built into the budget at this time. Again it’s a proposed budget. We’ll see what stays in it throughout the process.”
The assembly did agree to invite the governor to this year’s Little Norway Festival in hopes of showing him the community and making the case against service and spending cuts.
The town hall meeting is Wednesday, March 6 at 6 p.m. in borough assembly chambers and the community is encouraged to attend. KFSK will broadcast it live.