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11 amendments, more to come in Borough budget

MAT-SU—Last night the Assembly for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough began its budget deliberations in earnest. The Assembly adopted eleven amendments that both reduced spending and funded new items, including a new mechanic for West Lakes Fire Service Area, a full-time fire chief for the growing Caswell & Willow fire service areas, and the requested three percent increase for education funding.

At the top of the meeting, Assembly Member Ron Arvin sought to move a page and a half of line item deductions from this year’s Finance, IT, and Planning Departments to next year’s budget, FY 2014. Arvin said he would look at other departments too and was open to dialogue on the cuts. He had asked the Borough’s financial analyst consultant, James Wilson, to look for patterns of unspent money in the Borough’s operating fund, Fund 100. Via telephone, Wilson said the Borough’s operating fund had, on average, $4.5 million of unused funds over a period dating back to 2007, though last year the unspent funds were $1.6 million.

“We’re not conservative enough in our projections,” Assembly Member Jim Colver said.

Borough Manager John Moosey said it was the natural course of things. “We don’t spend more than we have.” He also said changes to the way of business, such as the addition of 18,000 square feet at the Dorothy Swanda Jones building, might alter the heating bill, and that funding was best left in place.

Finance Director Tammy Clayton cautioned the Assembly on deleting funds that the Borough would have outstanding fees for this fiscal year.

Arvin’s proposed cuts of $1.36 million were reduced to cuts of $640,000 in his first amendment. In the second amendment Arvin reduced the Finance Department budget for FY 2014 by $398,500.

Arvin’s third amendment gave the School District its request for a three percent increase of $1,493,934 million to equal $51.2 million in local funding. Arvin said he asked for a hike in the tobacco tax for long-term funding of schools, and health & social issues. Arvin assigned $150,000 for the State Human Services Matching grant, $75,000 for Youth Court, and $200,000 to the city of Wasilla for a planning grant, which the city has said would be for SART, Sexual Assault Response Team.

Assembly Member Vern Halter rounded up money through cuts to appropriate $70,000 for a double vault outdoor toilet system for the Meadow Lakes Community Park Complex. The only audience member to testify was the President of the Meadow Lakes Community Council, who thanked Halter for supplying toilets for the community’s anniversary celebration and assured the room that he would enjoy a high-fiber diet that day.

Halter added $75,000 from state revenue sharing dollars to the Talkeetna Water & Sewer debt.

“There’s 188 users of the system and in summer 2,000 visitors a day,” Halter said, of the Talkeetna sewer system.

Halter added two new positions, an equipment mechanic for the West Lakes Fire Service Area, and a full-time Fire Chief for the Caswell & Willow Fire Service Areas. He asked that the fire mill rate go up to 1.46 to pay for the full-time position.

Assembly Member Steve Colligan increased the surcharge for Enhanced 911 from .75 to $1 to generate $300,000 for data layers to support dispatch and emergency services. The data includes addressing, point locations, details about major public facilities, and hydrant locations.  

“There’s no reason to roll out all this great new technology if the data you’re relying on for that system is inaccurate. This is bringing our data up to standards so we can take advantage of new technologies and improve the response times and serve the public,” Colligan said.

Assembly Member Warren Keogh said he wanted to reduce Assembly spending to fall in line with cuts elsewhere. He struck $2,520 for Assembly telephone expenses and tried unsuccessfully to reduce travel costs.

The Assembly is back at it on Thursday at 6 pm at the School District Administration chambers at 501 N. Gulkana Street in Palmer.

You can listen to the 3-hour meeting yourself at Radio Free Palmer. http://radiofreepalmer.org/

For more information, call Public Affairs Director Patty Sullivan at 745-9577 or psullivan@matsugov.us

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