Assembly To Hash Out Budget, Bus Fares and Library Funding

During last week’s regular Anchorage Assembly meeting dozens testified at the second public hearing on the 2014 Municipal budget.

They were concerned about two things: bus fares and library services.

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This 2014 budget proposes increased bus fares. Jedediah Smith is a member of the municipal public transportation board. He testified in favor of the fare hike.

An Anchorage Assembly meeting in December 2012. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA - Anchorage
An Anchorage Assembly meeting in December 2012. Photo by Daysha Eaton, KSKA – Anchorage

“We recognize that the cost of fuel has increased and we have not seen a single fare increase since 2005,” Smith said. “We believe after much deliberation that the board participated in that this is a modest increase in fares, but we also do not want to see a status quo or a decrease in people mover service.”

If the budget passes as is, Adult fares would go from $1.75 to $2.00. Seniors fares would double from 50 cents to $1.00. Anchor Rides, a ride service for people with seniors and people with disabilities would see a fee increase of 50 cents too, from $3.00 to 3.50.

Michael Wendland, who teaches special education in the Anchorage School District, lobbied the Assembly to keep fares the same for people with disabilities.

“If the funds are doubled from 50 cents to a dollar that means that the funds that we need to raise are also double. We don’t get a lot of funds from the school district so we have to do a lot of fund raising and grants,” Wendland said. “And furthermore, once our students transitions to adults they rely on fixed incomes from government programs so if their expenditures are doubled for transportation, they might not be able to afford that.”

Sam Dubois testified that raising fares for people who need public transportation would be counterproductive.

“It seems like on some level we’re taxing people or giving them a penalty or a fine because for whatever reason they’re unable to afford a car and the insurance that goes along with that or they choose not to use a car,” Dubois said. “So it would seem to be more productive long term if we kept the fares low or even lowered them to encourage people to use public transportation.”

The other big concern was library system. Many said it was not getting adequate funding under the proposed budget, especially for technology. Sue Sheriff said it was imperative that more money be allocated for improving online access.

“I invite you to visit the library after school or on weekends and wait 40 minutes to an hour to get on a public work station and do work at the still sluggish speeds offered to the public now,” Sheriff said.

Cheryl Lovegreen also spoke in support of technology upgrades and asked for more money to repair the building. She asked for an additional $260,000 for the library system to be added to the budget.

“This modest edition will make a huge difference to the library and its patrons. And will help it work to serve our residents for years to come,” Lovegreen said. “We also need to increase the capital request for the Loussac Library renovations so that we can maintain the aging building and renovate the failing entrance area.”

One person testified that pieces of the building were beginning to fall off, nearly hitting people below.

The proposed 2014 budget is around $470 million, which is 1 percent lower than the 2013 budget.

Mayor Dan Sullivan says the cuts will allow a drop in property taxes. Budget testimony was closed at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting.

There is a work session scheduled at City Hall on Friday at 11 a.m., where the final budget will be hashed out.

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.