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Suddenly, Dillingham city budget slips into red by $560,000

Jim PaulinDutch Harbor Fisherman

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It hadn’t happened for a while, but finally it did. The city of Dillingham overspent its budget last year by more than a half-million dollars.

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“It was just one of those years you hope doesn’t happen, but one of those years you have to plan for,” Mayor Alice Ruby said. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, the city was $560,000 over budget, she said.

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Fortunately the city was able to pay its bills by dipping into its savings account, or fund balance. “We had a history of underspending from the fund balance for the last few years,” Ruby said.

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Last January, the city-owned senior center flooded and was shut down for extensive repairs. It eventually reopened, and insurance covered most -- but not all -- of the expenses. The public works building had a big problem with its sprinkler system. And lawyers' fees for negotiations with labor unions were higher than expected, according  to Ruby.

'Unforeseen problems'

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“Those are examples of the unforeseen problems we had last year,”   Ruby said.

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City manager Rose Loera last week reported the fund balance at $3.37 million, down from $3.89 million. Last year’s city general fund budget was $8 million, Loera said.

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City employees are negotiating their first labor contracts. Public safety employees are represented by the Public Safety Employees Association.  Other city employees are represented by Local  71 of the Laborers International Union of North America, Loera said.

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Loera said the senior center operates with a $470,000 budget, including a $138,000 state grant.  Services include a lunch program at the center, home delivery of meals, transportation, and assistance in applying for various programs.

Labor cost savings

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Next summer the city expects to save money in labor costs at the landfill, with a bear-proof container for the guts and carcasses of subsistence-caught salmon, according to public works director Malcolm Brown.  

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The bear-proof container is awaiting its landfill inauguration as it spends the winter on the city dock, Loera said. “We haven’t used it yet because it came on the very last barge,” Loera said.

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She estimated the container at 30 feet long, and 7-to-8 feet tall, she said. It has five separate areas for depositing fish waste, Loera said.

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The new container will replace a smaller one kept outside the gates of the landfill for after-hours deposits of entrails, bones and heads. The small container filled rapidly and attracted bears. City workers on overtime pay would monitor the “fish box,” and take it inside the landfill, Loera said.

The new container is expected to hold a night’s worth of fish waste, and city workers will empty it inside the gates during regular hours the following day, Loera said. The landfill itself is bear-proofed by a fence, she said.

This story is posted with permission from Alaska Newspapers Inc., which publishes six weekly community newspapers, a statewide shopper, a statewide magazine and slate of special publications that supplement its products year-round.