Matanuska-Susitna Borough

MAT-SU property owners get tax deduction

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Wednesday, May 30, 2007

PALMER— Property owners in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough will be getting tax relief in the newly adopted 2008 Borough budget.

Last night (Wed.) the Assembly followed through with its promise to reduce property taxes at a time of increasing demands on public services. Assembly members dedicated $2.1 million in state municipal revenue sharing dollars to a local tax deduction. Homeowners of an average house ($230,000) can expect $117 in tax relief.

The Assembly managed to hold steady on the mill rate while still providing funding for services that drew large crowds to the budget process. The 22-year-old Animal Shelter will get an upgrade. Sutton and Trapper Creek will get a new library and community center. City libraries were given block grants. Schools get funded at the district's 100 percent package, so no teachers or programs are cut. Assembly members also supported an enhanced program, $1.65 million will go toward intervention specialists at every elementary school.

"All in all it was a great night," said MAT-SU Mayor Curt Menard. "The Assembly held the mill rate steady, and we'll have reserves going into 2008."

Last year the Assembly anticipated the need for taxpayer relief by saving $1.4 million in state revenue sharing for this year. From this year's state revenue sharing the Borough benefited by $3.2 million, all of which it put toward lowering the tax rate below the legal cap.

Assembly Member Lynne Woods, of Sutton, championed the idea of putting revenue sharing money aside last year. "I'm very pleased we have created a budget that has taken care of many needs in our community," Woods said. "And it's done in a way that is efficient. With help from our state we are able to reduce our property taxes."

Taxes pay for emergency medical services, trails, pools, ice arenas, libraries, animal control, fire suppression, road maintenance, solid waste, disaster response, and repairs to school buildings, among other services. Property owners also pay for unfunded state mandates, namely $5.8 million in property tax exemptions for seniors and disabled veterans.

Balancing the increasing needs of education with the concern for high property taxes is a tough equation every year for the Assembly. This year, 77 percent of an average homeowner's property taxes goes to education. This year $2.8 million more than was in the proposed Borough budget will go to schools. Funding for the school budget is up $ 4 million over last year.

Assemblyman Rob Wells drew support for the extra funding for the School District's intervention specialists. "I think it will pay huge dividends through the individual's whole education career," Wells said.

"It's not easy being the fastest growing area in the state without industry to help support our tax base," Assembly Member Cindy Bettine said. "Funding school programs at an enhanced level over last year as well as ensuring economic development planning through tourism and our port, was a huge accomplishment."

Assembly Member Michelle Church likened the tug-o-war of the budget process to choosing between puppies and kindergartners. Thankfully, she said, both are happy in this budget. "The Borough as a whole is well served by this budget," Church said.

Our state Legislators came through on many accounts. The state funding of PERS/TERS relief helped the Borough avoid serious reductions in education and local government. The Borough alone received $1.3 million for PERS relief.

On city libraries, the Assembly decided to increase the grants from the expected amount. Wasilla will get $288,335 and Palmer gets $236,905 in grants as part of an approved five-year phase out.

Two Borough libraries are getting some much-anticipated investment. A $1.4 million library and community center will be built in Sutton. House Speaker John Harris sponsored the appropriation of $600,000 in state funding for the project, and a private grant is expected. For Trapper Creek, the Borough will no longer have to pay a lease on a tiny building that houses the Trapper Creek Library once a new one is built. Assemblyman Tom Kluberton, who represents the area, said it's a golden opportunity to add onto an existing construction project for an ambulance bay.

"The library books are stacked so tightly on the wall that they freeze to the shelves in winter. The place is so small, so jammed with shelves, if I were to trip on my shoelaces I'd have no place to fall," Kluberton said of the 800-square-foot leased library.

A facelift for the existing Animal Shelter will likely increase adoptions with its planned inviting surroundings. The Assembly approved a $5 million upgrade to the Animal Care Shelter. The project will improve the existing yet dilapidated building. The old building has not kept pace with the growth of residents and their unwanted pets. Compounding the problem is the higher per capita number of pets here in the MAT-SU.

Borough Manager John Duffy said he is pleased the Assembly decided to invest in the new shelter. "The new facility will allow us to better serve our citizens and their pets."

Assembly members also invested in customer service. They approved 9.5 new employees. Even so, the MAT-SU is the leanest government around. There's one Borough employee to 295 residents compared to the state of Alaska at one employee for every 44 residents or Fairbanks North Star Borough at one employee per 244 residents. The new employees are filling jobs at the Borough that feel growth the strongest: such as map making, emergency services, engineering, grant writing, among others.

The Assembly came through with a third and final pay adjustment for all 468 of our emergency responders whose salaries did not reflect their skills. An EMT testified in prior budget public hearings that his job at Arby's making sandwiches earned him $3 an hour more than the Borough paid him to save lives.

Assembly Member Mary Kvalheim, of Wasilla, began the increases. "The emergency responders are working so hard for our community," Kvalheim said. "It's time they got a living wage for the sacrifices they and their families make to keep us safe."

Assembly Member Bill Allen reflected on more heated budget proceedings of the past. "In all sincerity," Allen said, "working with the Assembly has been a delight in this budget process. We're so fortunate to have Finance Director Tammy Clayton."

For more information contact Borough Manager John Duffy at 745-9689 or Finance Director Tammy Clayton at 745-9629.