PALMER -- Mat-Su Borough taxpayers will see a rebate next fiscal year, $150 for the average home value ($220,000). The Assembly devoted all of state revenue sharing contributions toward returning a rebate, a second year in a row. This, in effect, lowered the areawide mill rate from 10.326 mills to 9.645 mills. Last year's mill rate was 9.644.
Balancing the needs of education and public services while maintaining reasonable property taxes is the core of the debate every year for Assemblymembers. Yesterday was the third and final day of budget deliberations, which ran 5.5 hours.
“People can't afford gas,” Assemblymember Mary Kvalheim, of Wasilla, said of the nearly $4 a gallon pump prices. “I'm glad we lowered the mill rate.”
Taxes pay for emergency response, trails, pools, ice arenas, libraries, animal control, fire suppression, road maintenance, disaster response, and repairs to school buildings, among other services. Property owners also pay for unfunded state mandates, namely $6.7 million in property tax exemptions for seniors and disabled veterans.
The Mat-Su School District gains a $1.1 million increase to education over last year. At $44.7 million, the School District budget comprises 73 percent of the Borough budget. Some Assemblymembers wanted to raise the increase, but others expressed frustration that the school budget numbers were not easily understood.
Assemblymember Cindy Bettine, of Big Lake, opposed a higher increase.
“I cannot support any more money,” Bettine said. “(State legislators) did a lot for education. That is a tax relief that our citizens deserve,” Bettine said. From the state, the school district is receiving $2.3 million in energy relief funds and a $10 million increase in basic need.
Tourism sees additional support, $700,000 was set aside for the Mat-Su Convention & Visitors Bureau from bed taxes. Visitors to the Mat-Su spend an estimated $201 million a year. Deputy Mayor Lynne Woods is a strong supporter of our tourism economy. “I see the Mat-Su CVB's role as marketing our destination,” Woods said. “It's a critical tool in this effort. If we want tourism to grow, we need the work that they do to make it happen.”
Assemblymembers set aside $300,000 for farmland preservation through future federal matching grants. Assemblymember Michelle Church, of district 3, asked that the grant be set aside in a separate line item to demonstrate that the Borough is committed to preserving farmland. “What this will do is ensure that there is match money available,” Church said. “We're leveraging federal money for agricultural land preservation, not only for the aesthetics. It's becoming more and more important to be able to grow food locally. If we lose the farmland we can't do that, once subdivided and paved, it's gone.”
A significant investment was made in supplying emergency responders with proper equipment. Among the items, the Assembly approved $348,250 to outfit emergency responders with protective clothing suitable for urban search and rescues.
The libraries of Palmer and Wasilla again received support through grants.
Looking to the future, the Assembly funded planning studies such as $30,000 for the South Denali Corridor Study to prevent another “Glitter Gulch” or a dense strip development along the Parks Highway at the entrance to the proposed South Denali Visitor Center. According to a 2006 Community Survey, the majority of Mat-Su residents surveyed think the Borough must do a better job of managing growth and development, 38 percent agree, 35 percent strongly agree.
State Legislators representing the Mat-Su came through on many accounts. The state funding of PERS/TERS relief helped the Borough avoid reductions in education and local government. The Borough received $1.3 million for PERS relief. The state contributed $3.7 million through revenue sharing.
The adopted non areawide mill rate is 0.383.
For more information call Manager John Duffy at 745-9689 or Finance Director Tammy Clayton at 745-9630.