Mat-Su Borough Manager John Moosey has two passions in life — his grandkids and baseball. So when the Governor’s budget crossed his desk, he must have felt like he was in the batter’s box facing a Phil Niekro knuckler. Where do you begin to start your swing against this one?
It started with instructing his department heads to look at every cut available in their department. No stone would be left unturned. From there, the budget process began.
“Essentially, the budget that was presented and approved by the assembly has about $12 million less from this current year going into next year in cuts,” Moosey said. “A good portion of that is capital needs and replacement. We thought we could get by with that for one year. Our challenge is going to be equipment. You have to replace equipment to keep up to date. We have done hiring freezes. Basically, any areas we can cut that would not harm services we provide.”
The goal when comprising the budget was to not show the residents of the Mat-Su Valley how painful the governor’s cuts were, but rather to do the opposite. Moosey stated he was very pleased with his directors. Even though they wanted to protect their territories, he said, they understood the task at hand and all pitched in to pass a reasonable budget.
No job layoffs were associated with the budget.
“There’s a reason for that,” Moosey said. “Number one, I don’t want to do it but we have people leaving going on to other jobs, we’re holding on to those positions and not filling them. If it’s a key position we’re trying to promote from within the operation. Then, keeping those positions frozen and not being filled.”
According to Moosey, the breathing room on the budget came when the assembly approved using the school bond money that was in reserve and applied it towards the potential cuts.
“Essentially going into the 2021 budget we got a hit in capital and we lost that $9.2 million cushion. I believe that we’re going to get hit pretty hard from the governor’s vetoes,” Moosey said. “It’s going to be much more challenging for the next year. Do we stop providing services or do we some how raise revenue ? I know my assembly does not want to raise property taxes, but we are really at that point of decision.”
The tax cap was approved at 10.5 mils; this budget comes in at 10.3 mils.
“I cut everything that I could and got down to 9.5 mils. Then they took the whole Dunleavy cut and threw it on top to come to 11.5,” Moosey said. “That was the proposal I gave to the assembly. They kept the reductions that I made to 9.5 and said we’re not going to raise taxes; we’re going to take this $9.2 million and apply it.”
The school bond that was promised by the State at a 70% reimbursement is budgeted at zero reimbursement. The previous road bonds and parks and rec bonds are unaffected.
The biggest changes the Mat-Su Borough may see is days that the number of days borough government remains open for business.
“As manager I like to provide services that people are satisfied with and they don’t notice us,” Moosey explained. “The idea that there is a big disruption in services or taxes I really don’t want to see that happen.”
Looking into his crystal ball, Moosey is seeing that the borough is going to get hammered.
“Knowing Governor Dunleavy and what he ran on: large PFD, right-sizing government… I feel there’s an obligation to the citizens here and they’re saying well guess what we don’t have the funds to do it so we’re not going to meet that obligation,” Moosey said. “But since I’ve known him from the school board and being a state Senator he strives very much to be a man of his word. He has to because this is what he said he was going to do. Others may think otherwise but he’s not going to say oh I tried and I didn’t get it. I think the legislature is playing chicken with him and if he’s driving the other car, I’m the first one to drive out of his way.” Moosey stated.
But is it fair to put this much of budgetary burden on local municipalities?
“I don’t have a concern with it if he can show the whole picture,” Moosey said. “When he came out with his budget it was, ‘OK, Mat-Su Borough and all the other boroughs, it’s time to grow up and take care of your own.’ The problem that I have is whenever there are State cuts we get more…our citizens get hit more than anybody else in the state. Nobody is hurt worst, per person, that the Mat-Su Borough from losing a $100 million from school bond debt reimbursement. It falls on our taxpayers harder than anybody else — No. 1, because we’re growing, and No. 2, because we have a much smaller commercial industrial tax base than anyone else. We still have $220 million in debt out there with $203 million of it shifted back to our taxpayers. So, that’s what I have a big problem with, we are getting hammered and some people are getting paper cuts. I feel strongly that the State has mistreated the residents of the Mat-Su Borough.”
The Mat-Su Borough is currently conducting a study with the McDowell Group on what effect an additional tax would have on a family of four, what would be the affect on the cities within the borough. Moosey is hoping to be able to present the results to the assembly during the month of August.
Does Moosey believe that the state is on the right track with the Dunleavy cuts?
“No,” Moosey said flatly. “As manager, whatever gets thrown at us, I have to manage and I’m going to put my best face on it, but, no. I personally have a problem with anything in life that ‘this is the deal; we say ‘yes’ to the deal and the deal changes,’” Moosey said referring to the 70/30 school bond debt reimbursement.
“If I were to lease a car for $400 a month and they decided, ‘yeah, our business took a turn and now it’s $800 per month, we’d have a severe reaction to that,” Moosey said. “That’s my concern with how our citizens are getting treated on this. Because they stepped up and said, ‘we’ll take this deal to build these schools, 70/30.’ It was consistent for a generation and then not to fulfill that obligation. I feel the obligation to our citizens are just as important or more important as our obligation to the oil companies.”