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Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly to hear public testimony on budget Thursday

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Posted: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 12:14 am

FAIRBANKS — The weeks the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly spent working on its 2013 budget have been in a vacuum, free of public input.

But the Borough Assembly will have plenty of input on its proposed cuts to the borough’s Parks and Recreation Department and the animal shelter, as well as an increase to paratransit fees, when it opens the budget to public testimony Thursday.

At least three groups have sent out notices urging their followers to fill the assembly chambers to voice their disapproval of the proposed changes in the borough’s fiscal 2013 budget.

Testimony will be limited to three-minute speeches, none of which are likely to outdo the message being put together by animal shelter supporters.

They plan to present the assembly with dog collars representing the 322 animals that were euthanized last year, a number they fear will go up if a $64,000 cut from the Animal Control Department’s budget goes through.

To keep the Animal Control Department’s budget flat in the face of rising costs, Borough Mayor Luke Hopkins had suggested cutting the shelter’s work week down to five days, a move the supporters didn’t like. Instead, the assembly opted to further reduce the shelter budget by $64,000.

The Parks and Recreation Department was hit with the largest proposed cut, a reduction of almost $250,000 — from a total of $8.2 million down to

$7.95 million.

The community planning, animal control and transportation departments also have cuts proposed, ranging from $65,000 to nearly $100,000.

The assembly opted to cut from the bottom line of each department, leaving the administration to decide which specific programs or services to reduce. Where $250,000 will come from in the Parks and Recreation Department is up in the air.

The budget also proposed raising the $2 fee for the borough’s VanTran paratransit bus system to $3 to cover the program’s rising costs.

Access Alaska, a disability and senior support and advocacy organization, came out in force last year to oppose a similar increase in fees. Its members have sent emails opposing the fee increase because many of the VanTran riders live on a limited income.

The calls to action largely centered on the idea that the borough’s budget isn’t growing out of hand.

“All this would be debatable if the borough budget was skyrocketing,” Eric Troyer, president of Interior Trails Preservation Coalition, wrote in defense of Parks and Recreation. “But the budget Mayor Luke Hopkins submitted to the Assembly is less than 1 percent larger than the budget of the previous year.”

Hopkins’ budget, as introduced, was 0.75 percent larger than the current year’s budget and, with an increase in borough-wide property value, kept the property tax mill rate the same. Hopkins hoped the $141 million budget could avoid major changes, but assembly members are looking for deeper spending cuts.

The Borough Assembly is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Thursday in the borough chambers. A second meeting for public testimony could be held the following week. After testimony is finished, amendments can be offered on the budget.

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