FAIRBANKS — After two marathon budget sessions, the public will get its turn to sound off on the borough’s roughly $159 million budget tonight.

The Borough Assembly will start hearing testimony at 6 p.m. in the borough chambers, and testimony is limited to three minutes per person.

The assembly’s changes to the budget proposed by Mayor Luke Hopkins lack sizable cuts made in recent years, but there are several big topics that likely will draw a crowd, including education funding, overall spending, recycling and a change to fire service areas.

In its budget sessions, the assembly cut funding from Hopkins’ proposed levels for economic development, equipment purchases for transit and for the borough’s popular recycling program.

Assemblywoman Diane Hutchison also made a change to funding of the healthcare contingency reserve fund that saves more than $600,000 without affecting  health care of employees.

In all, the assembly slashed about $1.1 million from the budget, but added $560,000 to school funding.

That change, which is the only major spending increase, brings the total local contribution to schools to $48.3 million, still short of what the district requested.

Despite calls for further cuts to the budget, Hopkins defended his budget, saying it doesn’t call for any increase in property tax revenue. The mill rate has bumped up slightly, he admitted, but the total number of dollars out of the community is the same as last year.

“My budget is the same dollar amount as last year,” he said. “I’m not asking property owners as a whole to pay more for general government services.”

During budget time, the assembly considered changes to borough user fees but ultimately rejected most. One change, though, has the borough’s fire service areas worried.

The Borough Assembly unanimously opted to begin to impose administrative fees on fire service areas. Fees are required under borough law but haven’t been imposed for years.

Its impact varies depending on the size of a fire service area, but the biggest fee would be charged to the University Service Area at $28,000. University Fire Chief Doug Schrage said he felt the fee was being imposed unfairly considering the relatively little reliance his department has on the borough and the additional services the department offers to the borough either for free or at under cost.

“We’re very concerned about that,” he said. “That’s the money we have to use to buy fire trucks and fire station repairs because we don’t get support.”

The change was opposed by Hopkins, who left it out of his budget. The assembly added it in when the legal issue was brought to their attention.

Steese Fire Department Chief Mitch Flynn also was critical of the timing of the changes. He attended a meeting with other fire chiefs Wednesday and said the fire departments have not been given enough time to respond. However, he’s not sure whether the departments will attend the hearing tonight.

“We’re not happy about it speaking from a fire chiefs point of view. What is discouraging is the lack of communication that comes out of the borough meeting. There’s no way to plan for it or budget for it, and it comes at a time when service areas are trying to save for our long-term projects,” he said.

The borough likely will spend most of tonight hearing public testimony and will reconvene next week to take up debate and amendments on the budget.

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 and follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.

 

If you go

When: 6 p.m.

Where: Borough chambers

Testifying: The Borough Assembly will go late to take testimony, at three minutes per person, from everyone who wants to sound off on the budget

For live coverage, follow reporter Matt Buxton on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics