Today I checked the mail and had my tax bill waiting for me. Included was a note from the Mayor saying we had a $15 million surplus, not that my tax bill went down. Nope. Instead, there was an entire paragraph devoted to setting up the Legislature to be the fall guy for why taxpayers will not see their surplus tax money returned this year.
You heard that right. Mayor Berkowitz didn’t talk about his decision to increase property taxes by 6% or shift $2 million of dollars in labor cost from the Operating Budget to the Capital Budget. Nope. Instead of controlling what the Muni spends, decisions have routinely been made to increase spending. The Assembly rejected millions of dollars in cost-saving measures offered by the conservative members of that body.
Mayor Berkowitz wrote, “The Legislature has not yet passed the state budget but has already targeted Anchorage for cuts and cost-shifting. Until they gavel out, we are vulnerable to further cuts and cost shifts. Once we know the full impact of legislative decisions, we hope to return property tax relief later this year.”
That was in the mail today. Then at tonight’s (May 24, 2016) Assembly meeting, the story got worse. The Anchorage Assembly approved two expenditures completely out of touch with our fiscal reality and taxpayer’s monies.
Not only did the Assembly approve a $25,000 expenditure to buy a piano (yes, a piano), they approved, by a vote of 8-3 (Demboski, Starr and Flynn voted no), a pay raise for 30 employees at a cost of $840,000 annually. Anchorage Fire Dept. Battalion Chiefs and Assistant Chiefs received a 35% raise, and APD Lieutenants and Captains received a 22% pay raise.
Last year, the Salary and Emoluments Commission worried about a mere 3% raise for the mayor because of public perception in regard to our state’s difficult fiscal situation. That was last year. This year, apparently, we couldn’t care less. Next year? Like tomorrow, it never arrives.
Here are how the numbers broke out: AFD median raise $13,838, with a high topping out at $44,554; APD median raise $26,916, with a high of $30,765. Conveniently, they left all this out of the budget until AFTER this year’s tax bills went out. Surely, the mayor’s “tax letter” next year will inform us of the State legislative cause for that extra sting in your wallet.
As a taxpayer, when you hear the Berkowitz administration blame the legislature for that sucking sound on your $15 million in surplus, ask yourself this:
If you were in the legislature and the Municipality of Anchorage ignored over 40 amendments that would have saved millions in their budget, yet opted to spend for things like an outdoor-rooftop movie screen, a new piano at $185,000, and to give pay raises to public employees costing $840,000 annually, why would you not think Anchorage is flush with money? Why do they need municipal revenue sharing from the State?
The truth is Berkowitz and crew have reprimanded the legislators to go sit in the corner – those mean legislators are preventing us from giving back the taxpayer’s $15 million surplus – while they figure out how to spend the “fund balance.”
Does Mayor Berkowitz think taxpayers are dumb? Or just blind? At this happy rate of Municipal spending, one thing we probably won’t see is most of that $15 million coming back to us.
Amy Demboski is an Anchorage Assembly member.