Director Vicki D'Amico told the assembly that SAFV was expanding from intervention to prevention. Girls on the Run, which concluded with a 5K race last weekend, is one such program. (SAFV photo)

Director Vicki D’Amico told the assembly that SAFV was expanding from intervention to prevention. Girls on the Run, which concluded with a 5K race last weekend, is one such program. (SAFV photo)

Sitka’s domestic violence shelter got an unexpected boost as the assembly put its finishing touches on the 2014 budget Tuesday night (5-14-13).

Sitkans Against Family Violence will receive $50,000, and have its own line item in the budget – meaning it will not have to compete with other non-profits for city funding next year.

The move prompted a discussion weighing the value of social services in the community against other expenses, like maintaining streets.

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Restoring SAFV funding has been a consistent theme of assembly member Thor Christianson over the past few months of budgeting. During his previous term ten years ago the assembly dropped SAFV from the budget, and created a pool of money that all non-profits could apply for.

“I didn’t like that. I didn’t realize at the time just how big of a change that was going to be. So, I’d like to move that we appropriate $50,000 to SAFV specifically as a line item in the budget.”

Christianson’s amendment was welcomed by Mayor Mim McConnell and Phyllis Hackett, both of whom had interest in raising the amount the city contributes to local non-profit organizations – currently budgeted at $100,000.

The trouble is that Sitka’s 2014 budget was built on an almost-Faustian bargain by the former administrator.

Interim administrator Jay Sweeney reminded the mayor of this.

McConnell – Jay, if the assembly had decided to spend another $100,000 on non-profits, what kind of impact would that have on the future budget?
Sweeney – I don’t know that I can tell you what kind of impact it would have on the future budget. The one thing I can tell you though – and this hasn’t been brought up in tonight’s discussion – and that is that a portion of the reason that the administrator delivered a balanced budget in the first place, is that the amount of money the public works director has recommended be designated for capital improvements and repairs of infrastructure was trimmed far below the recommended amount. That’s the trade-off.

The Public Works Department has identified road maintenance projects alone totaling over $3-million dollars – with Edgecumbe Drive at the top of the list. The 2014 budget provides $500,000.

Increasing funding for the rest of Sitka’s non-profits proved difficult, as Phyllis Hackett soon learned.

“I’d like to amend this to increase support to non-profits by $100,000…”

Hackett’s motion received no second.

The issue for Pete Esquiro was less about pitting the value of social services against the value of roads, and more about a deficit budget. The 2014 budget was $125,000 in the red. This was his line in the sand.

“The part of the recommendation that has to do with the $50,000 to SAFV – I’m for that. However, I’m totally against deficit spending. Always have been, always will be.”

Esquiro was willing to increase the amount of money going to SAFV by deducting that amount from the $100,000 set aside for all non-profits. Mike Reif and Matt Hunter agreed, but their amendment failed.

The fear of a projected deficit was tamed by some good news. Interim administrator Sweeney reported that higher-than-expected state revenue sharing in 2012, plus federal Secure Rural Schools funding, had produced a surplus for this year – about $1.1-million – which the city could have at its disposal for next year.

Now it was Hackett’s turn to question Sweeney.

Hackett — Jay, if we do accept this amendment and we do approve this budget the way it is, do you feel it’s deficit spending? Knowing that we have this anticipated surplus coming in? Because it doesn’t feel like deficit spending to me. I just want to get your take on that.
Sweeney – It depends on your perspective.

Sweeney said if you looked at 2014 as an isolated year, it was in deficit. But, if you took a multi-year perspective, not a deficit – and also not unprecedented. Previous assemblies had used surpluses to balance deficit budgets.

Only Pete Esquiro remained unconvinced. The motion to give SAFV $50,000 and its own line on the budget passed 6-1.

Before closing out work on the budget, Mike Reif decided to use some of the remaining surplus to address the document’s biggest flaw.

“The amendment I’m making is to increase the amount allocated to Edgecumbe Drive from $223,000 to $720,000, an increase of $500,000.”

Reif agreed to make the increase contingent on the projected surplus becoming a real surplus, at the end of this fiscal year on June 30. Sweeney put the odds of that happening at 75-percent.

The assembly unanimously approved.