News-Miner opinion: So here it is: Crunch time is on for the fiscal 2019-20 budget of the Fairbanks North Star Borough government. The Borough Assembly is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at its regular meeting Thursday.
Since it’s a public hearing, that means it’s another opportunity for borough residents to say what services they support, what they are willing to do without, and how much they are willing to pay.
It’s also an opportunity for residents to think about the borough revenue cap. Is it time to revise it given the uncertainty at the state? Or drop it completely? Voters have consistently renewed the revenue cap every two years when supporters gather the signatures to put its renewal on the ballot.
But events in Juneau may warrant a rethinking of the revenue cap for the years ahead.
Mayor Bryce Ward has already laid out for the public how he sees the borough budget being affected by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposals for the state budget. The mayor held a well-attended town hall in March at West Valley High School, and residents spoke overwhelmingly against the governor’s budget.
Mayor Ward introduced his proposed budget — his first since winning election in October — in early April amid much uncertainty about what is happening at the state level. Gov. Dunleavy’s budget and other proposals he has put forward for helping to close an expected $1.6 billion fiscal gap have rippled through local governments around Alaska.
The mayor’s $173 million budget proposes raising the property tax rate by 1.6 mills, which equates to $160 on every $100,000 of assessed property value. That would be, if approved, the highest the areawide mill rate has been since 1999. People living in service areas and the cities of North Pole and Fairbanks pay additional property tax.
Why the increase? That’s due in part to Gov. Dunleavy’s proposal to end state reimbursement of local governments for the cost of bonds issued for school major maintenance and construction.
What the mayor’s budget doesn’t take into account, however, is a proposal by the governor to eliminate the authority of local governments to tax oil and gas properties. There’s word out of Juneau that this proposal isn’t going anywhere, but it isn’t outwardly known how much hardball the governor is going to play to get what he wants in the budget process.
There’s also the unknown about state funding of K-12 education: The governor’s proposed statewide reduction would mean a $30 million hit to the Fairbanks school district. The school board earlier this year unanimously approved a budget that ignores possible reductions from the state and borough.
Mayor Ward’s proposed budget includes $50 million for the school district, an amount unchanged from the current year.
So what’ll it be, Fairbanks North Star Borough taxpayers? It’s your money, and there’s lots to talk about.