Residents and visitors celebrate the Independence Day holiday on main street in Petersburg, July 3, 2019. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Property taxes are going up in Petersburg in response to Governor Dunleavy’s line item veto for school bond debt reimbursement. Petersburg’s borough assembly approved a supplemental tax to make up for the lost state payment. There was some interest in cutting borough spending to make up for this and future state reductions.

The governor vetoed 50 percent of reimbursement payments for bond debt for school projects. In Petersburg those are the swimming pool, the expansion of the vocational education building at the high school and renovations to all three schools, all approved by local voters in 2004.

A full assembly met July 4th to consider the supplemental property tax to make up for that veto, costing Petersburg just over 230-thousand dollars annually. All seven spoke their mind on the increase.

Assembly member Brandi Marohl spoke out against the tax hike.

“I would like to see this be absorbed in our budget and go through three readings of a supplement(al) budget,” Marohl said. “(Finance director) Jody (Tow) can send them out as is. It’s only 236,000 dollars, I don’t think it needs to be put on the rate payers. He plans of axing us more next year and I think that we need to eliminate the EMS position, or not eliminate, the position being created. We don’t have any more people in this community than we’ve had. We need to find efficiencies in our government.”

The borough has waited to fill a couple positions in public safety until the final word on funding came out of the state capital.

Bob Lynn supported the tax increase this year but wanted to avoid a similar increase next year.

 “I’m going to vote for it but I think we need to go back and revisit the budget and look at what we’re spending money on and reduce it down,” Lynn said, adding, “maybe eliminate those positions and maybe take, but we gotta do something because I don’t want to raise taxes next year above what we’re going to have to do for this.”

There was support among other assembly members to look at spending cuts in the borough budget for next year.

Jeff Meucci thought the governor had backed the borough into a corner with the veto.

“We could certainly revisit the budget but for me revisiting the budget should be done very methodically during the wintertime when we have some time to sit down and let the community know that there’s services they’ve come to expect are not going to remain the same,” Meucci said. “I mean I expect the same kind of budget cuts next year from the governor next year as well. By making us wait until the Fourth of July or some other date late into the calendar year, it really puts us at a disadvantage and he’s not doing any favors to us. I don’t think anybody wants to see the taxes go up but we’re kind of stuck here at this point so, I’m going to be voting for this.”

Meanwhile mayor Mark Jensen brought up his opposition to the borough budget again, including the sergeant’s job in the police department and the emergency medical services coordinator in the fire department. Both are funded in the borough’s spending plan but are not yet filled until the assembly gives the final thumbs up.

“So I’m having a hard time voting for this,” Jensen said. “We need to do it. It’s our obligation because the people voted for these bonds. I’d like to find a way to make it up between now and next year when the governor takes the other half of the school bond indebtedness reimbursement away, which he will. Potentially revenue sharing will go away and maybe he’ll find a way to even get at the raw fish tax and that’s going to be a worse scenario than what we’re looking at now. So we have to find ways to be more fiscally responsible.”

The vote was 5-2 to approve the supplemental tax levy. Mayor Jensen and Marohl voted no. Tax bills go in the mail this month with the increased rate for property owners within service area. Combined with another small increase already approved by the assembly in June, tax bills will go up 92 dollars for every hundred thousand dollars in value.