Boys scouts read Bill of Rights

Boy Scouts from Cub Scout Pack 92 read the Bill of Rights at Monday night’s City Council meeting in an early celebration of Bill of Rights Day. The annual reading, which has been organized in the past by Frank Turney, was dedicated to Turney’s memory, since he died earlier this year. Turney also traditionally provided a cake for the reading. In his absence, a cake was provided by City Hall. 

Fairbanks City Council approved the city’s budget for the fiscal year that starts Jan. 1, reducing general fund spending by 2.1% and cutting the capital budget by more than half. In addition to passing the 2020 budget, the council also made final amendments to the 2019 budget, adding funding for police uniforms, snow removal and making a $1.5 million transfer to the capital budget.

The budget was negotiated by city department heads and the council over the course of several weeks and was finalized at the last meeting of the year. The final approved budget spends $35.47 million, down 2.52% over the current year’s budget and projects a $2.9 million increase in general fund revenue. If the city remains under-budget, there will be a $207,017 surplus at the end of 2020.

Notably, the council chose not to transfer any money from the general fund to the capital fund next year. The capital fund is used to replace equipment, such as vehicles, and for large-scale maintenance on buildings.

In 2019, $3.9 million of capital fund revenue came from the general fund. Of this, $1.5 million was transferred by a budget amendment Monday night. There was some debate over whether it was prudent to make a one-time transfer of this size, but the council ultimately decided against transferring a smaller amount.

City Chief of Staff Mike Meeks said less funding for capital projects is problematic because the city’s assets depreciate at a rate of about $7.8 million per year. Adding the $1.5 million helped, but still fell short of what’s needed to make up for the depreciation. The replacement of the heater in City Hall is a large expense that has been mentioned repeatedly in capital funding discussions. Officials estimate a new heater will cost approximately $5 million.

Police officers have come to city council repeatedly in the last few months, asking that more money be allocated to the Fairbanks Police Department. The council approved a $100,000 increase to their funding for 2019 at Monday night’s meeting, for uniforms and other wearable equipment, such as gun belts and holsters. For the 2020 budget, FPD will get an additional $446,000, bringing their total operating budget for the year up to $7,353,998, a 6.35% increase over 2019.

The city’s revenue shortfall has been an oft-repeated issue this year. Matherly has submitted different ideas to the council to attempt to bolster the city’s revenue, including a rise in the bed tax and removing the city’s cap-within-a-cap. However, all these ideas were voted down. He later said he was disappointed about this and wanted to “put pressure” on the council to propose their own ideas to raise revenues.

More recently, newly-elected councilman Aaron Gibson proposed adding tobacco vaping products to the city’s existing tobacco excise tax, as a way of further raising revenue. This item was considered Monday night.

The only additional revenue source mentioned during the budget item was an increase to traffic fines and fees. Councilman Jerry Cleworth requested a $15,000 increase to this item. The item was approved, though Mayor Jim Matherly stated that the increase would not constitute putting the feet of the police department to the fire, and “this is not a quota.” The revenue would be allocated to the city’s engineering department for the use of outside contractors to fix city sidewalks.

Councilwoman Shoshana Kun stated at the beginning of the budget discussion that she did not support the 2020 budget as she felt it was not balanced. She was the sole dissenting vote against adopting it.

Contact staff writer Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572 or find her on Twitter at @FDNMcity.