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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

MEMO TO THE BOROUGH ASSEMBLY -JUST DO THIS..





We agree with those that say "schools are fundamentally communities". 

The following is the testimony your citizen lobbyist gave tonight during public comment to the borough assembly in support of equitable funding of what we believe is the the heart of the borough, our public school system..



"Our school district has been given a very clear directive by the borough mayor and assembly.  Bring forward a reasonable request for funding along with an even more efficient plan for use of those funds.  The district has been told to work harder and smarter.

The Mat Su School District has done that.

The district was told to present a clear thoughtful budget document that assures that the district is not only being good stewards of the funds they are receiving from the borough but the state and federal government too. There needs to be documentation to show that regardless of the uncertain funding challenges, that Mat Su students are coming first as are efforts to increase their academic successes.

The Mat Su School District has done that.

The message from the borough to the district has been that there needs to be continual evidence that the resources are used to employ top rate employees but no more than required to do the job and that the ratio of administration to staff is to be kept minimal making it the leanest district of its size in the state.

The Mat Su School District has done that.

Another directive has been to use local valley vendors and recognize valley business whenever possible. The district is to give priority to the 207 active vendors in Palmer and 380 vendors in Wasilla that they do business with. Data shows that for every $1.00 the district spends it returns $9.00 in investment right back into our valley.

The Mat Su School District has done that.

The district has been instructed that school choice for parents and students with a robust curriculum should be a top priority. With 11 non-traditional schools and 3 alternative high schools making 14 of the 45 schools choice based learning

The Mat Su School District has done that.

The mayor and assembly directed the school district to work with the state and our legislative delegation for funding level increases to meet the needs of a growing student enrollment and to continue to close achievement gaps, and increase college and career readiness.

The Mat Su School District has done that.

Now as a voter, a multiple property taxpayer, and advocate for a fair and equitable public education system I am asking the Mat Su assembly and mayor to do your part to meet a 3% increase in local funding to the school district as requested and in fact do more if you can. Rebate of property tax paid from leased space for Charter schools this year should be clear to make that funding come to the district as an additional piece of funding as the ordinance was intended.

There has been a visible increased cooperation between the school district and borough this year. The district's foresight in remodeling this room for district training needs became a great asset to the borough to seamlessly utilize it during construction of borough public space saving potentially thousands of dollars in renting other accommodations. 

Dr. Paramo and her staff has done a good job with the budget, maintaining aging facilities, planning for new schools and most importantly in continuing to keep our district a leader in education in our state. The district deserves the reasonable request for increase in funding to continue the job to not only to educate the needed workforce in our future but honor the family wage jobs that they provide to the valley.

"The borough assembly should just do this.  


There was passionate public testimony from a number of people who drove all the way from the Talkeetna to plead for borough funds to match grant and state funds to build a needed yesterday public library. Libraries are the center of the universe for a lot of our residence and even more so outside the core. The librarian of the Sutton Library is now finished and well in use in that area. They joined the chorus recommending the assembly fund their neighbors in the north so they could enjoy the benefits to the community a new facility provides. 

Champions for funding for the Sexual Assault Response Team turned out along with those that dream of the economic development possibilities if only more funds were available. 

Hats off to the brave employee who put one foot in front of the other and spoke to the assembly about the increased cost and lost of production should the borough travel down the road of eliminating flex time. They even seemed to be listening. We need to remember that our public employees,teachers, firefighters, police etc are taxpayers too. In fact they are the bulk of our jobs in the valley. They have children in school, roads that need to be plowed and ambulance rides unfortunately to take. They SHOULD be encouraged to weigh in. 

We are hoping the assembly wasn't paying to close attention to the speaker that is sure the answer is selling off all borough land assets. The comparison to Dubuque, Iowa was interesting but we are still scratching our heads with last weeks comparison to Anahiem California by the economic development director.

The assembly knows what some people feel is important.  The assembly needs to know how you feel about funding for public education, social service grant matches (with no money allotted in the budget so far) services for public works, parks, planning and yes libraries.  They will meet again Thursday this week in Wasilla at the Central Fire Station to take up another round of public testimony.  

They will also vote on an ordinance to increase the local taxation of tobacco which is woefully less than other organized areas and is a great tool to discourage smoking particularly of our youth.  

We don't hand out kuddo's to Assemblyman Arvin very often for a variety of reasons and one of them being because he hasn't been here physically until lately to receive them. But he gets one for bringing this to the table for a vote and a revenue increase of benefit to the borough. 

Get out and make some noise to your assembly. If you don't you will have to wait another year before they take a whack at the borough budget. 

And who knows what kinda ax they will be holding next year...


Monday, April 29, 2013

TIME TO FEED SOME UNICORNS



The next couple of weeks the borough assembly will be conducting a tango line of meetings that will probably have more impact in valley life than any meeting all year. The borough has gotten their final love letter from Juneau with money kisses (sans any poison veto darts from the governor)  and its almost time to feed the unicorns by filling the holes in the budget and start digging a few new ones.

The manager of the borough (who besides John Boehner probably has the worse job ever) along with his department heads (except the one that packed up and left last week) presented the budgets in two meetings. If you needed a dose of depression that was the place to be.

Yep, all the department heads breaking out their top hat and canes trying to dance through the minefields  presenting a flat budget as they were expected to do. A chorus of pathetic professional pleadings for ample funding and people in the workforce to do the job from an assembly that rarely, if ever even bothers to measure whether or not something is working before they proceed confidently to the next big thing. .


There were a couple of floats decorated with accomplishments for last year were in spite ongoing decreases in people to do the job. But the list was shorter this year as everyone recognized that there is just so much water you can cover when the boat is left with little crew and the oars are sitting on the dock. The low moral in the room was almost palatable. 

After a couple of years of being told to do more with less and being pulled in many different directions the new directive is that employee "flextime" is to be eliminated. The borough has used the concept of flextime for many years and it has saved the borough thousands in overtime pay but is also an  important tool in the public process. Over a third of valley residents drive to Anchorage every day to work. It's impossible for them to attend hearings and public meetings during the day. Having employees able to work flextime (adjusting starting and quitting time from a range of available hours) allows the public to have borough staff available at community council , road and fire service board meetings, speak to community groups that meet at night and most importantly be available at platting, planning commission or assembly meetings to answer questions from members of the public or those sitting in the chairs making the decisions that effect residents that don't bother to read their packet or get questions answered during the day. When asked the finance department alone determined it would increase their budget by some $50,000 to eliminate flextime for the overtime that will be needed during election, property tax appeal time and other labor intense times of the year. 

If this decision stands we can shut the door on public process and expect it to cost more to operate the already limping along borough. A door that was has been barely propped open lately. Another knee jerk reaction to a perceived  problem. We aren't willing to say there isn't some abuses in all of the borough as we have found days ourselves that much of staff is out of the building but if there is shouldn't it be identified and addressed by management to establish a core part of the day employees must be at work and work with the rest of the day? Micromanaging staff by SOME ceremonial mayors and assembly members has become tiresome and expensive in so many ways. 


Hard to tell by what was presented and heard that our borough is not only the fastest growing place in Alaska, the state has the lowest unemployment rate in over 5 years.Never know that voters had such confidence in our growth a couple elections ago that they agreed to the biggest school and road bond in the history of the borough. Or that 40% of "all new housing construction in Alaska occurred in the Mat-Su in 2011". And it wasn't even a peak year.

Yet in this budget presented to the assembly there is NO increase in funds to the school district. NONE. The borough already at the bottom of the list in local governments in providing financial support to education has nothing but the minimum for this year included in the budget presented. 

Along with that NO matching money for grants for social and health programs. NONE. 

Plenty in there for a port that is a beast that can't be fed enough. Plenty for economic development and subsidies for business as the assembly found new ways to make sure their tax obligation was even lower this year. 

Our borough employs only about 50 people in full or part time positions for emergency services and over 90% are on call volunteers to our borough and cities which make up a land mass the size of Scotland. Should make you hope enough are available for YOUR ambulance ride, to handle the car on the side of the road during your commute that turned suddenly into an accordion and the passenger inside who had a very bad morning is waiting for the jaws of life.

The assembly has head from the staff of the borough. This week Tuesday at 6pm at the school district building and Thursday at 6pm in Wasilla at the Central Fire Station they will be ready to hear from you. We are hoping they get an ear full. The assembly has quite a task ahead of them. The shells they will need for the shell game might become the next man made beach in the borough which would fit in just about right to this band of dreamers. 

It's pretty clear your assembly wants smaller government for the same reason crooks want fewer cops. It's easier to get away with your property tax dollars.