The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday directed staff to move forward with a budget for the Ketchikan School District that would avoid drawing the borough’s Local Education Fund below a $2 million protected amount, effectively cutting the district’s budget request by about $355,000.
The district had asked for about $1.1 million more in discretionary funding from the borough to help pay off the district’s health insurance liability to the borough. At the start of the current fiscal year in July, the district’s cumulative health insurance liability stood at about $2.5 million; district staff are now projecting the deficit will shrink to $1.1 million by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, without any supplemental funding from the borough.
Assembly Member Jeremy Bynum voted against the approval of the district budget, expressing skepticism that the district has worked to reduce its health insurance deficit and has reduced its budget to avoid drawing deficits. Discussion on the district’s budget lasted more than an hour and 15 minutes.
The Assembly also unanimously approved the borough budget, which authorizes $61 million in borough-wide expenditures.
Also on Monday, Bynum and Borough Mayor Rodney Dial took issue with the inclusion of a $1,638 grant to the LGBTQ community group Ketchikan Pride Alliance on a $389,982 list of grants to community organizations recommended by the Borough Grant Committee.
The newly formed non-profit had applied for $3,276 from the borough; the grant committee recommended funding half of that because it had not applied for a community grant before this year, explained Assembly Member Jaimie Palmer, who sits on the committee.
Bynum argued that, for such a small organization, the borough’s funding effectively meant it was acting as “Kickstarter,” which he said was not the borough’s duty.
Palmer expressed her support for funding the grant: “I would argue what they said in their proposal was good. They want to have outreach opportunities and be inclusive and show that, hey, this is what we’re doing here, and it’s education. I think it’s a positive thing. And for the borough budget, if you look at the full budget of what the borough has, and the tiny percentage they’re asking for, I think the taxpayers would throw even more money at it than what they’re asking for — for this tiny little amount.”
Dial said that he was concerned that funding the organization would foster division in the community, echoing his reasoning in explaining why he vetoed a 2020 borough resolution urging statewide LGBT anti-discrimination protections.
“According to the grant application, this funding is designed in part to provide ‘outreach events (as) a form of recreation that will foster opportunities for connections,’ additionally that ‘KPA will host three (large) events during the year. These events include the Pride Picnic and two other awareness events.’ Now, although not mentioned, I’m assuming that one of those would be a local Pride parade,” he said. “Additionally, per their request that ‘these events will include opportunities for community members to learn more about local, state and national LGBTQ+ resources,’ I’m concerned that this suggests a potential political component, or at least a risk of that. … In my opinion, it’s not appropriate for taxpayer funds to be used for this purpose.”
He further questioned why the committee recommended partly funding the Ketchikan Pride Alliance while not recommending the full grant requested by The Salvation Army — Ketchikan Corps, which in part would help run a vacation Bible school summer camp.
“Respectfully, this was made more concerning for me because the grant committee denied a reqeust to The Salvation Army to fund a summer youth camp referred to as vacation Bible school,” he continued. “In The Salvation Army’s request as stated, it was designed to not be religous, but to be a ‘weeklong experience intended to help young people develop new skills, instill a sense of self-confidence, promote positive social interactions and discover God’s creation.’ … By approving one while denying the other, it would seem to suggest that education and activities with any reference to God are not acceptable, but education and activities for LGBT causes will be supported. I believe we’re straying from the initial goals of local grants and now are wading into social justice issues. There is nothing that would stop the KPA from using this grant money to purchase items in support of the parade. I just believe this is not an appropriate use of taxpayer funds.”
A few minutes later, Dial clarified his reasoning: “What I was really trying to get across was that, we’re now taking and funding a new organization that a lot of people in this community, supporting what they see as a social justice issue, especially for a small amount, which probably could be raised in a day on Facebook. And so, I just felt that it was a divisive thing for our community, and, anyway, I just needed to voice that objection.”
Bynum moved to remove the Ketchikan Pride Alliance grant from the list of grants to approve, but his motion died for lack of a second. He subsequently moved to hold a separate vote on the Ketchikan Pride Alliance, which also died for lack of a second.
Before the Assembly voted, Dial expressed his intent to use his line-item veto power to eliminate the grant funding to the program. With that in mind, Bynum responded, he would be voting in favor of the list of community grants. The grant list was approved unanimously.
Finally, a split Assembly approved increases for the borough mayor and Assembly members, effective following this year’s borough elections in October.
The Assembly adopted an amended compensation adjustment proposed by Bynum. Rather than boosting the monthly compensation for Assembly members from $150 to $500 while leaving the per-meeting compensation of $75 unchanged, Bynum recommended setting the monthly stipend at $350, while increasing the per-meeting compensation to $150. He did not recommend any changes to borough staff’s proposed increase to the mayor’s compensation: $1,000 per month instead of $500, with an unchanged $75 per-meeting stipend.
The Assembly unanimously decided to hold separate votes for the increases to the mayor’s compensation and to the Assembly compensation. By a 5-1 vote, the body increased the mayor’s compensation in accordance with the staff recommendation, with Palmer voting against the motion.
The Assembly member compensation change split the Assembly evenly, with Assembly members Austin Otos, David Landis and Grant EchoHawk supporting it and Palmer, Bynum and Assembly Member Judith McQuerry opposed. Dial cast the tiebreaking vote in favor of the compensation increase.
Monday’s meeting adjourned at 9:50 p.m.