Just a few months after the Sitka Assembly finalized this year’s budget, they’re back into their spreadsheets, looking at the numbers for next year.
The group met for its first special budget work session of the season Tuesday night (11/27/19). Interim Administrator Hugh Bevan — who will be at the helm for a few months before the new city administrator, John Leach, takes over next spring — outlined a budget meeting schedule for assembly members and asked for political direction.
“We’re expecting this to be another difficult year with a lot of political uncertainty, especially at the state level,” he said, “and so the staff has already started preparing a conservative budget.”
One of those uncertainties the assembly has to work with is school funding. Governor Mike Dunleavy will release his budget in mid-December, so they’re hoping to get a better idea of what level to fund Sitka’s schools. But Thor Christianson said they should plan to fund to the max allowable, or “to the cap” funding from the start.
“I have a feeling we’re going to wind up at or near the cap no matter what, because if we’re not we’re going to have people screaming at us for months,” Christianson said. “And for the comparatively small amount of money, we could save ourselves a lot of headaches by saying, ‘You know what, we’re just going to start at the cap.'”
The assembly didn’t delve much further into the nitty gritty of next year’s budget, and assembly member Richard Wein said he wanted to see a larger conversation about the economic health of Sitka.
“I think that part of this year’s discussion needs to contain at least portion of breaking down Sitka’s econom,” said Wein. “And this is without potentially increasing fees or doing anything, but to be able to figure out where we can maximize our return.”
Bevan agreed but said that “macro” talk should happen after the budgeting process.
“Get your budget done this year and then follow on with a facilitated look at the big picture and run down some of these rabbit holes you’re talking about,” he said. “But when you try and lay that over the top of your mechanical, one-year budget process, you can tie yourself in a big knot.”
Bevan suggested adding one special budget meeting to the calendar in December, with more meetings anticipated for the early months in 2020, but no final dates were set.
In other business during the assembly’s regular meeting, the group:
- Approved, on first reading, $15,000 to pay for additional legal fees associated with the sale of a derelict utility dock to a local marine salvage company, Hanson Maritime. The ordinance passed 5-1 with member Richard Wein opposed,
- Unanimously appointed Denise Ewing to to a three-year term on the Health Needs and Human Services Commission,
- Approved on second reading updates to a section of the Sitka General Code relating to the responsibilities of the Gary Paxton Industrial Park director,
- Proclaimed Saturday, November 30th as “Small Business Saturday”,
- Approved a liquor license renewal for the Bayview Pub,
- and heard a presentation from the Sitka Health Summit Coalition about a $25,000 Culture of Health Prize recently awarded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation