Mayor Mark Jensen and assembly member Dave Kensinger listen to testimony at a May 2, 2022 meeting. (Joe Viechnicki/KFSK)

Petersburg’s borough government has a budget for the upcoming year. The borough assembly Monday narrowly voted to approve an amended spending plan and didn’t consider any changes, despite opposition.

The budget boosts borough spending in nearly all departments, with an increase of around 10 percent in the borough’s general fund. It will mean an additional worker for building maintenance and one in the harbor department. It also uses some reserve money to balance and includes a 200-thousand dollar increase to the local school contribution. However, much of the debate on the budget has focused on funding for the police department.

Local business owner Cate Kowalski referenced near daily mass shootings in the news and called for no reductions to the police force.

“In the horrible light of this past week’s tragedies across this nation, I think it’s even more fundamentally important that this department gets the needs and funding they deserve,” Kowalski said. “We need training, we need education and most of all they need our support.”

Throughout the budget review, no assembly members have proposed any amendments to reduce the police force. Nevertheless, assembly member Tom Fine-Walsh said he’d continue to oppose the overall spending plan and thought education and housing should be higher priorities than police.

“The overwhelming majority of the people I speak to feel perfectly safe in Petersburg,” Fine-Walsh said. “But you know as we’ve seen in messages to the assembly here, housing is a major concern. It’s just something that’s affecting our ability to bring people in and fill employment positions. Education’s also a concern. These are my priorities. These are the priorities of our community as they have been expressed to me and people that I speak with and as such, I can’t support this budget.”

In May assembly members did agree to add grant money for a local housing non-profit. But they voted down funding for an audit of the local police force. That was a proposal by assembly member Jeff Meucci who said he’d remain a no vote on this spending plan.

“I think we’re missing an opportunity to look at a department or have the city manager look at a department to make sure we have enough personnel and resources for that department but it doesn’t appear that that’s what the assembly wants to do,” Meucci said. He was also opposed to adding a maintenance person.

Mayor Mark Jensen has opposed trading for property owned by Petro Marine that could be used for a harbor maintenance facility. Like past budgets, this year’s includes money to complete that swap and make improvements to that Petro building. The borough’s been waiting for the final word on cleanup of contaminated soil there. However, Jensen said the Petro land swap money in the budget wouldn’t cause him to vote against it.

“I think currently just like in the past that there are many other options for a workshop on borough owned property but I will support (the budget) and then hopefully be involved in the process when we move forward if we do,” Jensen said.

Jensen was also opposed to funding $200,000 for maintenance work in the school buildings. But he was joined in voting yes by three others.

“By and large this is a well-crafted budget by department heads and the borough manager,” said Jeigh Stanton Gregor. “Our consistently having very reasonable budgets is why, in large part why Petersburg is much better financial shape than a lot of other communities in Southeast.”

The vote was 4-3 to approve the budget with Fine-Walsh, Meucci and Dave Kensinger voting no. It covers the fiscal year that starts in July.

Later in the meeting the assembly approved a property tax rate for the upcoming year as well. That remains the same for property owners in service area one and will increase slightly for the rest of the borough.