FAIRBANKS — Borough residents made it abundantly clear at a borough budget hearing Thursday night that they don’t want user fees at libraries — ever.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly took public testimony on the 2011 budget Thursday. New user fees were not included in the budget but were brought up during assembly work sessions in April. Assemblywoman Natalie Howard suggested the library and parks and recreation departments be converted to enterprise funds, which are used for fee-based services. Howard said the proposal was designed to show the true cost of services to the public and may or may not result in a fee.
“The proposal offends me on every level, even if it was just used as a transparency measure,” said Hannah Hill, one of about 15 residents who spoke against library fees, saying a free public library was integral to democracy, equality and equitable access to knowledge.
“I hope the various testimony here would prevent it from ever coming up,” said Mallory Baker. Much of the room applauded.
Other residents spoke about the funding of parks, bus services and schools. Many voiced support for the mayor’s $139.8 million budget proposal, which the assembly trimmed by about $200,000.
Resident Bob Shefchik said the budget balanced the tax burden and the services people value.
“I’m happy to see my roads plowed. I’m happy if I pitch forward shoveling snow that an ambulance is going to show up. I used to use the library three to four times a week. That really is what a community is all about,” he said.
Property taxes dropped $12.49 per $100,000 of a home’s assessed value. That will result in revenue almost $9 million less than the voter-approved tax cap allows. The assembly also proposed taking more than $1 million out of the general fund to lower mill rates.
“As a taxpayer I don’t want you to cut the mill rate. I don’t want waste, but leave the emergency funds sitting there for emergencies” like growing health care costs, said Ronnie Rosenberg of the Fairbanks Animal Shelter, “rather than giving the average homeowner what would amount to at most a $50 break.”
Others asked for lower property taxes by fewer services and staffing levels.
“We still have 8.5 people in an air quality program. We don’t have an air quality program, we only have a stove change-out program,” said resident Lance Roberts.
He also criticized the community planning department and school district for having too many employees.
Several residents also spoke against a fee hike for Van Tran, a bus service for disabled residents. The change would bump it from $2 to $3.
“They are about the most vulnerable group there is. A dollar per ride is huge to them,” said Rick Webb of Access Alaska, a group that advocates for people with disabilities.
School district superintendent Pete Lewis asked for a $598,000 increase in local contributions to education. It would offset the loss of state funding caused by an increase in property values, he said. Total borough contributions to the school district equal $46.7 million.
The borough substituted a revised budget (which it has edited over the past few months) for the mayor’s recommended budget after public hearing. The Assembly will begin budget debates May 12 and must approve it by May 30.
Contact staff writer Molly Rettig at 459-7590.