The budget leaves just $109 dollars in surplus at the end of the year. It passed without any changes, including an adjustment sought by the Sitka Historical Society. The society said it needed $120,000 – not the $70,000 proposed – in order to keep a curator position at its museum. The job was vacated by Ashley Kircher at the end of May. She left after her year-long contract ran out.
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As is often the case in government, it’s not the “what” that gums up the works. It’s usually the “how.” And that’s what happened Tuesday night.
The Assembly could not have been more unified in its wish to give more money to the Sitka Historical Society. But at the same time, the Assembly could not have been further apart on how to do it.
The first proposal involved moving $40,000 out of the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau reserves over to the museum’s budget. Assembly member Larry Crews said that’s a bad idea.
“They’re not a city department, they’re a quasi-city department,” Crews said. “And I look at this as being kind of like a punishment for somebody who’s being prudent with their money.
“They put their money aside for a rainy day, or whatever’s going to happen that they’re going to need the funds. And if we’re going to pull funds from somebody else’s savings account, why don’t we pull it from our own savings account and fund it?”
Assembly member Phyllis Hackett said she’s supportive of the Convention and Visitors Bureau, and believes they’re doing good things for Sitka.
“However,” she said, “I do disagree with Mr. Crews. I do not feel that they have used the funds prudently because they are not a business unto themselves. They are quasi-governmental.
Hackett said the CVB is given funds each year from the city to promote Sitka, “and to hold back funds from that, to build up a reserve, is to me not a good use of those funds. I think they should be spending those funds to promote Sitka.”
Still, Hackett didn’t like the idea of moving the money from the CVB’s savings. Instead, she suggested taking $40,000 from the city’s 2011 contribution and giving it to the historical society. But that idea didn’t see much support, either.
Assembly members Reber Stein and Jack Ozment, along with Mayor Scott McAdams, voted to move the money from the savings account. Hackett, Crews and Westover opposed it, and without majority support, the plan died.
One idea down, several more to go. As talk moved to the entire city budget, various Assembly members offered their own proposals on how to fund the Historical Society and its museum.
Crews moved to take $47,000 from Community Schools. Ozment proposed eliminating the municipal engineer’s job to pay for it. Hackett wanted to transfer $30,000 from the Sitka Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. Westover moved to take $30,000 from grants to nonprofits, but that motion was defeated at the last meeting, so Crews changed it to $35,000 so it could be considered. And Hackett gave it one last go: $15,000 from the visitor’s bureau appropriation and $15,000 from roads.
One by one, each of those motions failed, and as a result, so did the Historical Society’s bid to replace its curator. Stein, who joined the meeting by phone, suggested that the museum’s hopes are just dimmed, not dashed; that there might be a way to find the money later.
The museum, of course, was not the only organization funded by the city to see some money shaved this year. The city’s contribution to Sitka Schools dropped 5 percent, as did money for Sitka Community Hospital. The Convention and Visitors Bureau had its city contribution reduced by 20 percent.
And within the city itself, most departments saw cuts in the amount of money they have to spend on wages, salaries and benefits. The city is expected to spend about 4.5 percent less on people, and about 7 percent less on operations in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, the Assembly also voted to raise sewer rates slightly, and heard the first reading of an increase in water rates. Those hikes are in place to help pay for required projects, but also to bolster the two funds, which currently are operating at a loss.
The next regular Assembly meeting is June 22.
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