Two residents testified on trails and some 20 teachers, parents, and principals testified Monday night for an education funding increase at the Menard Center in the first of three public hearings on the proposed 2018 Matanuska-Susitna Borough budget. Tuesday night a smaller crowd spoke up again on education and trails in the Assembly chambers in Palmer. The third public hearing is in Willow tonight, April 27, at 6 pm at the Willow Community Center.
For the past few years the Mat-Su Borough Assembly has funded the School District its full requests for increases. This next fiscal year Borough operations and capital projects take an $8 million cut, while education funding remains the same as last year's level, $55.8 million. Last summer, the Borough took on unexpected reduction of $5.7 million after Gov. Bill Walker vetoed school construction bond debt reimbursement monies for the 2017 budget.
Mat-Su voters recently supported trails and other projects by approving a $22.16 million recreation bond to fund projects, which may add to the mill rate.
The full audio is posted here for the Monday meeting.
Listen to Assembly Members and the Mayor on their closing remarks after the public hearing posted here.
Assembly Member George McKee said the Borough doesn't have the money for a six percent increase this year. Here is an excerpt from his closing remarks.
"We are in a recession now and we're probably going to be in a recession three years from now. Don't hold your breath or you'll turn as blue as that lady's shirt out there. ... Does it make it difficult for the teachers, of course it does. ... We simply don't have the available funds to come up with 6 percent increase this year. Unless we wanted to do this, the biggest department in the Borough, why don't we get rid of the fire department in the Borough and give you guys the money. That is how it would have to work."
Assembly Member Matthew Beck, excerpts from his remarks.
"I think the school district is awesome and no question with regards to the seriousness of the situation. ... Someone questioned our priorities. If you look at them we're not growing a huge borough government. If you look at the work John and his staff have been doing. They do, just like the School District, they do a lot with very little. They show a high dedication to the Borough."
Assembly Member Jim Sykes mentioned that a sales tax proposed by the School District may be a new revenue source for schools.
"We cannot possibly replace all the lost State funding and fund everything that the School District needs for its increasing student base, we're in literally a pinch. ... We have funded all the school district rises but commensurate with the rises are the rest of the families who are not in school and those numbers and services. ...With an increased population there is a perception that we get more tax money, well we do get more tax money, but it is outweighed by the demands of each of the new taxpayers who come here. ... So everybody that moves here costs us more than we get," Sykes said.
Mayor Vern Halter called this budget one of the tougher ones in his eight years of budgets.
"It was very frustrating for the Borough last year because we took that $5.7 million veto. It made it hard on the Governor. He had to do something. And so we absorbed it. No overtimes to staff. We didn't ask the School District or the School Board one thing on that. So it's a difficult thing. Fairbanks they get $17 million in federal aid into their school budget. ... The per tax per house is pretty close to the Mat-Su Borough," Halter said.
Assembly Member Dan Mayfield said schools have one of the most critical missions in the Borough.
"Teachers were my salvation. Coming into the Alaska school system, this was in Anchorage, those teachers the genuine hearts that they shared with me broke the cycle. I know that's something you endeavor to do every day," Mayfield said.
Assembly Member Randall Kowalke spoke of different constituencies.
"I have eight grandchildren, four of them are in the district schools. ... I"m painfully aware of the challenges ... All of the budget items that we deal with have constituencies," said Kowalke.
Testimony begins at 6 pm tonight. The Willow Community Center is at mile 69 of the Parks Highway.