The stage continues to be set for a debate over the borough budget. Mayor Charlie Pierce introduced an ordinance recently that he says would balance the borough’s $4 milion budget gap and when the assembly meets in Seward next week, it will take up an amendment to that ordinance.
Originally, the mayor wanted to transfer $3 million from the borough’s Land Trust Fund. That money is set aside for land purchases, but with assembly approval, can be used for just about anything. At the introductory hearing, Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, who narrowly lost to Pierce in last fall’s general election, said using that fund doesn’t balance anything.
“I’m sitting here, I’m looking at this land trust and I’m thinking ‘why do we need to move $3 million from the land trust to quote-unquote balance a budget?’ When we have $18 million in our general fund, you’re not really balancing a budget by using a savings account. You’re still deficit spending, any way you look at it. So...leave this for what it was supposed to be for, which is our land trust.”
At the meeting where Hutchings made those comments, a number of teachers also spoke out for more robust funding than has been proposed by the administration. The notion that mayor Pierce had that evening is now a proposed amendment to his original ordinance asking for the $3 million.
“I want to caution you. Here’s you an option. Take another million and a half out of the Land Trust Fund. I’ve heard the educational comments tonight. Let’s make sure our kids get a good education. You’ve got (an) ordinance...Go in and revise it. Change it from $3 million to $4.5 (million).”
That amendment is on the agenda for the assembly’s next meeting. But the real battle will take place May 1st, when the mayor’s full budget is up for debate. A vote on the land trust transfer is expected, as well as a vote on another potential source of revenue. The assembly will also vote on whether to put a sales tax increase on the fall ballot. Assembly members Kelly Cooper and Hal Smalley are sponsoring an ordinance that would ask voters to approve a one-half percent hike in borough sales tax, raising an estimated $5 million annually.