The Mat-Su Borough Assembly has approved a budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. The final version, approved last Thursday night, means lower property taxes. Assembly Members are saying that the process was smoother than usual, this year. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more:
This year, Mat-Su Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss had one major goal for the 2015 borough budget, lowering the mill rate. The mill rate is the measure that determines borough property taxes. Each “mill” is one tenth of a cent in taxes per dollar of property value. The final budget means property taxes will come in at just under one cent on the dollar. After approval of the budget, Mayor DeVilbiss says he was pleased with the overall result.
“We ended up with 9.662 for our areawide mill rate, which is nearly half a mill below last year’s mill rate, and that’s a genuine reduction. It’s not smoke and mirrors.”
Some of the highlights in the budget include seven new paramedic positions for the core area of the Valley, funding for continued development on Government Peak and Jim Creek, and funds to continue the Sexual Assault Response Team in the borough.
The Upper Valley also received some attention. Assembly Member Vern Halter secured appropriations for public restrooms and a parking lot upgrade in Trapper Creek as well as funds to update the heating system at the Willow Community Center.
Assembly Member Halter also made one of the more significant amendments to the budget by capping the mandatory budget reserve. Currently, the borough is required to place funds equal to twenty-five percent of the total operating budget into the reserve. Vern Halter’s amendment capped those contributions at $25 million, which freed up more than $3 million in funds. Some of that money was placed into a different savings account, the one the borough uses in the event of a disaster. Assembly Member Halter says he feels it’s important to have more funds on hand in the event of a major emergency.
“I was please that we put some more money in that emergency reserve, up to $1.2 million, now, because I think we’re in an area where we could have a fairly major disaster pretty easily with earthquakes, floods, and things like that. So, I feel really good about this budget cycle.”
Another seven-figure savings came in the form of Deputy Mayor Ronald Arvin’s plan for school funding. The school district had requested a three percent funding increase from the borough, which would have amounted to about $1.5 million. Arvin’s plan was to change the way that unspent funds from last year are carried over instead. Currently, the district keeps seventy-five percent of their unspent funding, with the rest going to the borough. This year, the district will be allowed to keep all of the unspent money. Ronald Arvin says that results in about the same amount of money going to borough schools as the requested budget increase.
“It’s about a wash. I think it results in about a $100,000 increase to the district.”
One item that is not in the budget is a repeat of the $75,000 contribution to the Talkeetna sewer and water system that Assembly Member Halter added to the last budget. He says that continued funds for the system would likely have to come from the state. The sewer and water system is currently undergoing a state-funded assessment to determine the health of the system as well as formulate a business plan to make it financially solvent.
At the conclusion of Thursday’s meeting, each Assembly Member thanked the others for the ease and speed with which the budget was approved. The process could have lasted until this Wednesday, and Assembly Member Darcie Salmon credits the speedy budget process to cooperation and preparation by the Assembly.
“I’ve sat through a number of these, myself, and this was probably the least painful of all of them, by virtue of people coming knowing what they wanted when they got here and moving things along quite rapidly…”
The final budget has been passed by the Assembly, but there is still the possibility of a veto on line items by Mayor DeVilbiss. On Thursday, he said he did not foresee a veto, but also declined to rule out the possibility of issuing one by the deadline of May 20th.