State cuts expected to top talks at 2003 AML conference

Posted: Sunday, November 09, 2003

Revenue sharing, sales taxes, energy policy and funding for public works projects will be among the topics on the table as municipal officials from across Alaska meet in Nome on Monday for the start of the Alaska Municipal League's 53rd Annual Local Government Conference.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Pete Sprague of Soldotna said he was most interested in hearing the concerns of other municipal leaders about state funding cuts.

"However you dress it up, that will be the issue," Sprague said.

More and more of the cost burden of providing services is being shifted to municipal governments, he said.

"We (the borough) are still in good shape, but a lot of municipalities aren't. And depending on what's on the horizon for oil and gas development, we could find ourselves in some difficulty in the future. Municipalities are in for some challenging times and this will be a good opportunity for municipal officials to discuss the situation we are in. I'm looking forward to it," he said.

Joining Sprague will be assembly members Gary Superman of Nikiski, Dan Chay of Kenai, Betty Glick of Kenai, Ron Long of Seward, Milli Martin of Diamond Ridge and Grace Merkes of Sterling. Assembly members Paul Fischer of Kasilof and Chris Moss of Homer will not go to Nome.

Borough clerk Linda Murphy also will attend and teach a class for newly elected officials.

Borough Mayor Dale Bagley is in Japan until later this week and was unavailable for comment. His aide, Ed Oberts, said Friday the administration had issued no statement regarding what it hoped would come out of the AML confab. He said Bagley would not attend, but borough attorney Colette Thomp-son and assistant borough attorney Sheryl Musgrove would.

Five members of the borough Finance Department, meanwhile, will head to Anchorage today, Monday and Tuesday for a meeting of the Alaska Association of Government Finance Officers, Oberts said.

League committees have drafted a packet of proposed resolutions aimed at Alaska lawmakers who are closing in on the start of the second session of the 23rd Legislature beginning in January. AML delegates will decide which of a dozen proposed resolutions will be handed to the Legislature.

Several touch on the loss of state funding. They include such things as calls for a community dividend program, state reimbursement for use of local services, and fiscal notes detailing potential impacts on taxpayers of measures affecting school districts and local governments.

Those are seen as ways to counter the revenue losses suffered by municipalities resulting from the curtailment of state revenue-sharing programs, the under-funding of the state's share of public services costs and the shifting of mandates to local governments.

Another resolution calls on lawmakers to repeal an exemption that now forbids local municipalities from setting higher sales tax levy on alcohol purchases, an exemption enjoyed by no other commodity. The extra tax revenue could help pay for under-funded, state-mandated services such as police and medical care, among other things.

One resolution calls for a comprehensive national energy policy that supports development of Alaska's petroleum resources. The resolution backs oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and an Alaska natural gas pipeline.

The AML also is proposing a resolution supporting transit, trails and sidewalks in Alaska and reauthorization of the federal Transporta-tion Equity Act for the 21st Century, TEA-21, expected late this year or early next. Among other things, the resolution supports increased funding for transit projects and continuation of 10 percent set aside for trails, sidewalks and community revitalization investment.

Other items on the AML agenda include the Alaska Conference of Mayors' meeting Monday afternoon, a special address by Gov. Frank Murkowski on Wednesday afternoon and a luncheon keynote address from Sen. Lisa Murkowski on Thursday.

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