The Matanuska-Susitna Borough budgets hundreds of thousands of dollars under vague categories with names such as “Legal,” “Professional Charges,” “Other Contractual,” and “Assembly Reserve.”
Exactly how all of this money is spent by the MSB is not publicized. The amounts approved for these mysterious budget items has increased by leaps and bounds in recent years.
I was wondering what we were paying for specifically in these categories so I sent an email (and an official public records request) to the Mayor and Assembly members and Manager and Attorney. No one responded.
These are my questions:
Under “Department Assembly; Division Assembly”, we budgeted $25,000 for travel and $1200 for a building rental. Why is 25K needed for Assembly travel? Why are the Assembly members renting a building? Don’t they work out of the (beautifully remodeled) Dorothy Swanda building? We listed $41K for “Dues and Fees”? Is the Alaska Municipal League that expensive to join? (P. 1) Why did we budget 7K for “training” and another 17K for “other contractual”? (P. 2) Why are we putting 40K into the “Assembly Reserve”? (P. 3)
Under “Department Assembly; Division Administration”, we budgeted 50K for Legal which was increased from 9K two years ago – what is going on here? What is this for? Don’t the MSB attorneys represent the Assembly? Why do we have a separate budget item for “Legal” in the Assembly/Administration category when we have an entire Legal Department – with its own huge budget? Also, what is the 200K listed in “Other Professional Charges” needed for? And we listed 183K into the category “Other Contractual” – what is this for? All told, there is about 450K in “mystery budget” items in this section of the budget.
Under “Department Assembly/Division Law” (this is the MSB Attorney’s Office category), we budgeted 625K for salaries and 346K for benefits. (We have four attorneys and two support staffers.) But then there is also another 607K for “Professional Charges” (broken down into 500K for “Legal” and another 100K for “Other Professional charges.”) This 607K is almost triple what the amounts were in FY2016 – when we spent a total of 231K in these two categories. Clearly, the 500K is for hiring outside counsel (which is a staggering amount anyhow) but what is the 100K for??? This item (“other professional charges) was only $8,273 in 2016 and now it is 100K? And how did we spend the 500K exactly? What law firms did we hire? To represent us in what cases? Also in Category EX 29 – “Other contractual” – we budgeted another $36,500? What is this for? The Law Dept also budgeted $ for computers and furniture and 21K for “travel. ” Note that under Ex. 51 – Vehicles – we didn’t budget anything for this year, but last year, 2017, the MSB spent $30,500. This is for the MSB Attorney’s “Personal Use” SUV. He obtained a brand new Ford Explorer to replace his older SUV.
Under “Department Finance/Division Common Contractual,” there is a category for “Wellness/Other” with a budget of $17,500. This was zero in FY2016. So, what is $17,500 needed for? Also on this page, towards the bottom, we budgeted 221K for “professional charges” including 120K for auditing and accounting and 75K for “Legal”. Why does the finance dept have to budget 75K to hire attorneys?
Under “Department Finance, Division Admin Finance”, there are more “Professional Charges” listed. $250,500 to be exact. This is up 100K from FY2015, when we only spent 147K on professional charges. In this category, we budgeted 85K for “legal” (i.e. attorneys)…and another 100K for vague “other professional charges.” What is all of this for? Again, why are we having to hire outside attorneys for every single MSB Division when we have four in house attorneys? There is also 93K budgeted for “Other Contractual. ” 28K is for training but 65K is listed simply as “other contractual.” What is this for???
Under “Department Public Works, Division Public Works Administration” (so the Admin costs for the PW Dept), why are there 12K in Legal expenses budgeted? (The Public Works budget is truly lean though compared to all of the other MSB divisions!)
Under “Department Assembly; Division Economic Development”, the MSB has budgeted 175K for “Other Contractual”. This category was only $3,736 in FY2016. Why the massive increase? WHAT the heck is this for anyways?
Under “Department Public Works, Division Central Landfill”, there is a budget of 173K for “Professional Charges” (including 10K for legal), which is almost double what this was in FY2016. What is this 173K for specifically? (It is not labor services as we pay for the employees via the $2.1 million budgeted in the separate Labor Services category.)
Finally, under “PORT, Port Development”, why did the electric expense budget go from 97K to 160K? Why did we budget 10K for “Legal” when this category was zero in FY2016? And why are we spending 278K in “other contractual”??? That is a huge amount of money. What is it for specifically?