The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly answered the question about funding non-profit organizations without putting it to the public. The Assembly saw enough economic value in the spending to leave it alone, at least for now.
Students, faculty and staff from Kenai Peninsula College lined up to testify about the importance of the Borough’s funding to it and other non-departmental expenditures (page 134 in the link).
At issue was a proposed ordinance that would have asked voters if the Borough should continue this kind of funding. KPC asked for a little more than $600,000 in this year’s budget. A handful of other non-profits also get funding. The Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council has received $300,000 dollars the past three years. That group’s Board President, Michelle Glaves, said this isn’t an issue about doling out money to group’s that can’t support themselves.
“You should be investing. In my opinion, the funding that the Borough gives to KPTMC is an investment as well. Promotion of tourism in the Borough code gives permission to do that,” Glaves said.
And that’s kind of what it all came down to. The line items in the budget that make-up this non- departmental funding are a tiny fraction of what the Borough spends every year. Less than one percent. And the major case behind continuing those expenditures is that they’re all for economic development. Whether that’s through well-educated citizens coming from KPC, better branding for the Borough or for traditional economic development programs.
“After ARCO left and the Business Incubation Center got attached to the building, it was pretty empty. The past executive directors filled up the building. Those companies eventually move off as they become bigger and outgrow the space,” explained Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District executive director Rick Roeske. (Disclosure: KDLL’s studios are housed at KPEDD).
That organization leverages funding based on what it gets from the Borough, as do a lot of others; and that argument, and the one about returns on investment, were what eventually swayed the Assembly in its final vote on the measure.
Wayne Ogle, one of the sponsors of the ordinance, had his mind changed after hearing all that testimony against the proposal and just two voices in support.
“To me, this all boils down to do people continue to support transfer payments, in general, to non-departmental groups. I think, from what I’ve seen tonight, there’s a tremendous amount of support.”
His political calculus told him that an advisory vote would simply confirm the findings of Tuesday night; that in general, people support the Borough spending a little on organizations that provide a return on that investment.
Ogle was joined in that opinion by six other Assembly members. Charlie Pierce and Kelly Wolf voted in favor.
Though the Assembly won’t send the question to voters in the fall, it will likely continue the debate when it tackles the budget later this spring.