Mat-Su Borough Assembly votes to postpone action on sales tax proposal
The Mat-Su Borough Assembly decided late Tuesday evening to postpone action on the sales tax proposals to help the school district with funding, with several members asking for further discussion.
Speakers during the public hearing on the various ordinances to have a borough-wide sales tax to support the Mat-Su Borough School District with its funding struggles, overwhelmingly said they would not support any increase. City officials from Palmer, Wasilla and Houston raised concerns it would hurt small businesses in their communities, which each already have a city-wide sales tax.
"The residents of the Mat-Su Borough will be forced to change their purchasing behaviors," Virgie Thompson, mayor of Houston, said.
Robert Hall, a small business owner from the Borough, did speak in favor of having a sales tax to help schools.
"If this tax proposal goes on the ballot, I'll support it," he told Assembly members. "I'll vote for it."
Hall did suggest the school board ask the Assembly for more time, due to the proposal's complicated nature.
A substitute ordinance submitted by the Borough's mayor and backed by the Mat-Su Borough School Board was for a two-percent borough-wide sales tax. Superintendent Monica Goyette said this amount would raise an estimated $12 million each year for schools.
Goyette said the reason the district needs funding is to lower class sizes, citing the average number of students in a high school classroom is around 32.
"That absolutely will be our first priority," she said. "It's to lower the class size."
If Assembly members had supported this ordinance, it would have been placed on a ballot for a special election in January 2018, paid for by the school district. Assembly member George McKee spoke out against that idea, as well several speakers from the public hearing.
Goyette said the goal with the money raised from the tax, was to also help with lowering student activities fees. Currently, high school students pay $200 per activity, up to $500.
"Immediately, we would lower it back onto last year's prices which would be $150 per student," Goyette said about what would happen if voters had the chance to approve it in a January election.
Several people criticized the idea of designating a sales tax to fund education, worried the money wouldn't go towards schools. That's because legally, a sales tax can't be earmarked for certain areas. It can only be placed in the Borough's general fund.
"Calling it an education tax is disingenuous and doesn't look good," one speaker said.
With the decision to postpone the sales tax ordinance indefinitely, members will be bringing back ideas on other potential solutions to help with school funding at a future meeting.