A Wasilla budget hearing last week drew almost nobody, while about 30 Willow residents came out on Friday to speak up about the Matanuska Susitna Borough’s proposed 2015 budget. Monday night in Palmer, a dozen people showed up for the final public hearing before the 409 million dollar spending plan goes to the Borough Assembly for deliberations.
Assemblyman Vern Halter said last week that ” 80 percent of Mat Su budget goes to pay for schools. ” But Deena Paramo, suprerintendent of the Matanuska Susitna Borough school district, says that statement is not accurate.
“Seventy five percent of those funds are in our operations are paid by the state. And then there’s another forty million on there that comes for the PERS and TERS pass through which is really the retirement system. And so, of that 269, the Borough contributes 53 million approximately, and so 53 million of a 400 million dollar budget is not 80 percent. “
The school district had planned to ask the Assembly for funds to cover a 7 point 3 million dollar shortfall, but those circumstances have changed.
Luke Fulp, assistant superintendent, told the Assembly Monday that since the legislature adjourned, a number of adjustments have been made to the school district budget. Increases in the base student allocation, and the amount of money home schooled children receive from the state, added to a one time allocation approved by the legislature, have infused unexpected money into the school district’s budget, he said.
“So altogether we are looking at 10 point 5 million dollars of revenue from those different adjustments. However, within our originally projected budget, we had a three million dollar that we had assumed would continue in one time funding. So really a net increase in state revenue of 7 point 5 million dollars. “
Fulp said the good news is offset by ongoing negotiations with four employee groups. “A lot is still unknown for us,” he said, adding that “Eighty percent of the school budget is tied up in employee salaries and benefits”. Fulp said there would be no staff reductions this year.
John Moosey, Borough manager, told the Assembly last month that the Borough would loose about a million dollars in state revenue sharing for the next fiscal year, and that mean’s a tight budget. Moosey told his department heads to trim cost so that the coming budget closely resembles last years.
But on Monday, the Assembly got a pleasant surprise. According to Borough finance director Tammy Clayton, the reductions in the state’s revenue sharing scheme actually occurs over a number of years, so that this year, there will be more revenue available than previously thought.
“After it was introduced, one of the things that happened was, we were originally told that we would only get 80 percent of the projected state shared revenue. So that’s what went into the budget. We’re now going to receive what they originally projected, which is four point one million, so there will be an additional one million, two hundred and forty seven thousand that is not shown in this budget at this time. “
Clayton told the panel that the recently approved federal Farm Bill would be adding another three point two million dollars in PILT [payment in lieu of taxes ] funds to the Borough’s coffers in the next fiscal year.
But Assemblyman Jim Sykes said at an earlier public hearing that he is “concerned that taxpayer revenues are down, while state grants are increasing to comprise about 33 percent of the Borough’s budget. “We don’t have control of the grants”, Sykes said, and asked . .. “what are our critical needs now? ” Adding that revenue the Borough gets from the state are for multi year projects.
Sykes comments echoed those of Palmer resident Patty Rosnel, who points to the budget allocation for Port MacKenzie. “They are taking on additional debt, and not spending money on the people who are here.” she said after the Wasilla meeting. Rosnel hammered that point home Monday night in Palmer
“We see that development policies have not been working. And while the have not been working, we’ve been pouring money into them, and that money has not been going to the people of the Borough. That’s what we need, we need a shift from development back to operations. We need services, services for the people. “
After Monday’s public hearing closed, Assemblymember Jim Colver moved the spending package onto the table. Budget deliberations begin on Wednesday.