The proposed 2019 mill rates remain the same as last year’s in Matanuska-Susitna Borough Manager John Moosey’s sneak peek at his proposed budget. Moosey and Department Directors gave presentations to the Assembly and Mayor this week.
The budget document is still being finalized. Borough Code requires the Manager to present his proposed budget to the Assembly on or before the third Tuesday in April (April 17). After that the Assembly deliberates on the budget and holds public hearings.
Listen to Manager Moosey’s audio posted here and see his presentation as well as each director’s audio and presentations. The director powerpoint presentations are on the Budget communications webpage at this link.
The proposed 2019 areawide mill rate is 10.322 where 1 mill is equal to $1 in taxes per $1,000 in taxable value. Taxes on a $200,000 home would be $2,064 if the tax rate is adopted. This is the same amount as last year's rate.
Moosey said some of the highlights of his draft budget include: funding for a Talkeetna ambulance station, funding for SART, and Drug Task Force work, fire protective equipment replacements, partial funding of the Willow Library project, overflow parking for the Government Peak Recreation Area, parking and boat launch design for Big Lake, Alcantra lighting and field project, among others.
Personnel costs have gone down $3.7 million from 2015 to 2018, Moosey told the Assembly. He requested 10 new positions in the budget, with only two EMS positions add cost to the general fund.
The proposed positions are:
1 accounting assistant II
1 planning technician
1 right of way inspector
1 IT project manager will replace contracting
2 emergency medical technicians
2 Solid Waste utility workers
1 administrative assistant in Solid Waste
1 risk management position to replace one under contract
Department Directors also gave insights on proposed budgets and services delivered.
Community Development’s management of Borough resources carried forward $2.4 million in revenue earned, said Eric Phillips, Community Development Director. The conveyance by Great Land Trust of 295-acres at Settler’s Bay adds additional property to manage for future recreation with a sweeping view of Knik Arm. Jim Creek Campground will be done this year, and a Maintenance Shop is nearly complete. The pools and ice rink projects are on schedule for the recreation bond. A goal of Phillips’ is to construct access across the Little Susitna River for economic development.
Community Development has 118 employees, 70 percent are on-call and can only work 1000 hours a year and 29.5 hours a week.
“I haven’t added a person in five years, yet the number of assets we manage and maintain goes up every year. If we add anything else we won’t be able to effectively manage it,” Phillips told the Assembly.
Port MacKenzie is negotiating with a prospective tenant for timber exports, Therese Dolan, Port Operations Manager said. If the lease is approved, estimated revenues would cover the operating costs of Port Mackenzie within 12-18 months, she said.
Animal Care Director Kirsten Vesel said her department never knows what to expect on the variety of pets. Just last year, officers hauled a mastiff into a canoe, retrieved loose alpacas, and searched a cluttered house for a 17-foot python. The python story held much of Alaska in suspense and was circulated in the press internationally. The staff is small for the vast geography and call volumes. Her budget has not kept up with the ever-growing Mat-Su pet population, she said.
“One veterinarian and one vet technician for about 300 animals a month is pretty remarkable,” Vesel said.
Public Works Director Terry Dolan said for the Solid Waste Division two major construction projects this summer are scheduled at the Central Landfill with the construction of cell 4 ($7 million) and a new construction and demolition debris cell. “Both need to be ready to accept waste in fiscal year ‘19 or we may be running out of space, so we are pushing hard to get those done,” he told the Assembly. Solid Waste is funded through revenues at the gate. “Wealso have low interest rate loans from the Alaska Clean Water Fund to pay for major construction like Cell 4 and the new construction and demolition debris cell. In order to pay back these loans we will have to raise rates about $20 per ton. We are doing that slowly over a 5-year period,” Dolan said.
Planning Department Director Eileen Probasco highlighted some department accomplishments including completing the Long Range Transportation Plan, leading the effort on the Matanuska River FEMA buyout funding, and supporting the effort to gather U.S. Census numbers. The Development Services Division has had success partnering with GIS in streamlining the driveway permit process and in proposing a solution to the density isssues with the detached fourplexes. Code Compliance closed 333 cases last year. The number of citations has gone up significantly this year, Probasco said, due mostly to more aggressive citing.
IT Director Eric Wyatt told the Assembly of the labor costs saved for Borough employees due to a stepped up E-commerce program. Recently, some 2,754 man hours were repurposed from the use of e-commerce, where in some cases the public can now input their data online rather than have a Borough employee process the paperwork. Since Sept. 2017, $140,389 in fees was paid online for swimming lessons. On business licenses, $180,830 was collected since last April. For trail passes, $20,860 in annual trailhead passes and $600 in daily passes was collected online since last June.
Finance Director Cheyenne Heindel’s department earned the Distinguished Budget Award in 2018 and the Certificate of Excellence in Financial Accounting award. Assessments added more than 1,100 new properties to the tax roll. The marijuana sales tax tallied at $225,000. With the help of the Risk Manager under contract, Finance reduced commercial insurance costs by $569,000. Heindel said the new Talkeetna Sewer & Water tax brought in some $13,000 in the first two months and is expected to grow in summer, offsetting the subsidization of the utility.
Capital Projects Director Jude Bilafer said his department survives on grants and loans. Several million has been found by reallocating grants when projects are built under budget. The remaining funds can go toward projects in the same bond package, such as schools, for example. Through the Alaska Dept. of Education & Early Development’s approval, the Mat-Su Capital Projects Dept. reallocated $14 million toward additional school upgrades and repairs that weren’t in the 2011, $214 million school bond package. On roads, one standout Bilafer said is the completion of Trunk Road South phase 2, which has diverted a significant volume of school traffic out of a neighborhood. Capital Projects will be working on some $78 million in projects in fiscal year 2019, he said. Bilafer highlighted three completed projects: the bridge over Bodenberg Creek in Butte, the West Butte trailhead parking lot and Public Safety Building 7-3 off the Parks Highway.
Department of Emergency Services Director Otto Feather said more than 500 employees work in Emergency Services with 87 percent of the operation being volunteer, paid on call, or part-time employees. “We owe a big debt of gratitude to all those folks who step up to the plate and selflessly serve. They’re incredible people, and I’m fortunate to be able to work with them,” Feather said. There’s no rate increase in the fire service areas, and the total capital project budget dropped again, a second year in a row, Feather said. He asked for two EMTs in the fiscal year 2019 budget with emphasis on the growing northern territories from Willow to Trapper Creek. It takes more than three hours for an ambulance to travel to Trapper Creek and back. The additional EMTs would bolster the force by adding capability at the right place and right time, he said. Another four ambulances will be refurbished this year. The top two capital improvement projects for Emergency Services this year will be: Public Safety Building 6-2 (mile 7 of Knik-Goose Bay Road), and Public Safety Building 11-9 at the Y near Talkeetna on the Parks Highway.
The Assembly also questioned Business Development Services Manager Alex Strawn on how best to help residents in troubled subdivisions like Williwaw where drug addiction and squalor have set up on lots of absent landlords.
“There are several options. … Just throwing more code officers is not the fix. You could have 100 code officers out there and, yes, right now each code officer has roughly 180 cases, which is way overwhelming for them and certainly another code officer wouldn’t hurt, but they (code officers) don’t have that ax that you’re speaking of. Really that comes down to, it’s really attorney time, it’s attorneys filing injunctions, that’s the tool, the next step,” Strawn said.
Next Tues. April 3, the Mat-Su School District presents its budget and an audit on district processes. This week Moosey showed a slide illustrating how Mat-Su residents pay more in property taxes toward education than Anchorage and Fairbanks.