I had to sit out of the Board of Equlization Meeting for awhile last night so I stepped into the Borough Assembly Meeting to watch the proceedings. They were working on the budget. The assembly is made up of seven members plus the mayor.
It was obvious that they were trying to hold the line on the budget. In fact, when I walked out at 10PM the mill rate stood at 9.980. It would likely change a little but it appeared that their target was to keep the area wide mill rate below 10 mills. Ten is one percent of property value. So a $100,000 property would be taxed $1,000 a year. The overall mill rate is higher than that because road service taxes and a few others are added on top of that. Most people had a total mill rate last year of just under 14 mills.
The assembly was still at it when I left at 10PM but had just passed the education portion of the budget. Education is by far the largest chunk of the budget. In fact, close to 80% of the property taxes paid by homeowners funds education. They agreed to give the school district just over $45 million dollars which is about $10 million less than the school board wanted. Frustration was heard about how the school district lobbies the public for money. They are always talking about cutting teachers, sports programs and other popular programs. The school district never uses the hollow threat of cutting the myriad of employees in the head shed.
When they assembly is working to hold the line on spending it is easier to see each assembly members priorities.
They were debating items as small as $200. Michelle Church moved to increase the budget by $1,000 to so that the borough could join the Renewable Energy Alaska Project. This is an organization directed by Palmer resident Chris Rose whose mission is to advocate for renewable energy in Alaska. The motion passed unanamously.
One of the more contentious motions was one made by Robert Wells. He moved to decrease the amount of money in the budget for the Farm Land Trust from $300,000 to $100,000. The Farm Land Trust is money to preserve farm land in the borough. He said the best way to preserve farm land is not to buy the land or the development rights to the land but for people to put a higher value on the produce from the land. He said that if the market is there for the produce, the land will be farmed. If the market is not good enough for the farmers to make a decent living off their land, it will be developed.
Michelle Church, Pete Houston and Deputy Mayor Wood argued to keep the money to preserve the farm land. Robert Wells said “the borough currently owns over 300,000 acres of land, we should be talking about selling some of it, not buying more”. His motion passed by 4-3.
There was plenty said at this meeting that concerns me as a tax payer. There were also some encouraging things that came out. Sometimes the same mouth both encouraged me and discouraged me. For example, although Tom Kluberton voted with the majority to hold the line on the Farm Land Trust budget, he said that you could preserve the farm land “with a stroke of the pen” by zoning the land agricultural. Then the farmers could not develop the land but only farm it. There was seemingly no concern at all about the millions of dollars of wealth that would be taken from the private land owners in the borough with that “stroke of the pen”. He spoke with approval about his visit to Malheur County in Oregon where many areas are zoned so that you need 320 acres in order to build one residential home. That certainly helps to reduce development. He didn’t mention that Malheur County currently has a decreasing population. Apparently, for some reason, people are leaving the area. I wonder if it has anything to do with that zoning?
It is apparent that more restictions will be forthcoming from this assembly, the mayoral election in June is important. Better show up at the mayoral forum tonight.