As the Kodiak Island Borough begins to nail down next year’s budget, the debate between education funding and raising property taxes has taken center stage.
This year, the Assembly is considering two proposed budgets. The budget prepared by the Borough manager’s office set a $21 million budget, including over $11 million for education support, but no money for non-profits and Kodiak College. However, that budget comes with a property tax increase.
That property tax increase does not sit well with Assembly member James Turner. “Do I think it should be 11 ninety ($11,090,000)? Absolutely. But you’re gonna have to make some assumptions, because there’s no way in my mind that we should be raising the mil rate.”
Turner proposed education support at $10.5 million, restoring contributions to non-profits and Kodiak College, and making cuts across the board in various borough departments, with no increase to the mil rate.
While Assembly member Geoff Smith thought that Turner’s education support proposal was too low, he appreciated the non-profit funding proposal and would consider a mil rate increase to fund them: “I do think we need to look at how we are going to support non-profits that support our community. They were the backbone of this community this last year when things were going on in our community and people were in need.”
Assembly member Amy Williams also argued for fully funding the school district: “If there is any year to fully fund the schools it is this year because this year is the one we have to recover from what happened with COVID.”
The Assembly debated if there might be more COVID relief that could replace lost revenue from last year’s severance tax, also known as the fish tax which is collected from Kodiak fisheries, because production was low due to COVID. Plus, there’s a possibility that some debt relief could come from the state. But some, like Assembly member Scott Arndt, thought they would not be able to count on that money.
“We’re making some assumptions here. We’re making an assumption that we’re only going to get 50% reimbursement on school debt from the state…I can’t say that we’re going to fund schools at their request right now. We’ve got too many unknowns. It’s not prudent right now.”
The Assembly must approve education funding at the May 20th regular meeting. The property tax rate must be approved by June 15.