Big spender Begich left money mess for Sullivan

August 29, 2009 

The city of Anchorage is broke. Actually, we are more than broke. According to city budget director Cheryl Frasca, we are facing an $8 million deficit next year even if Mayor Dan Sullivan breaks a campaign promise and raises taxes on property owners 13 percent by taxing all the way to the cap. If the new mayor doesn't raise taxes, we will face close to a $40 million deficit next year and the number will grow each year from there.

The city's investment fund, which helps pay down the unfunded liabilities of union pensions, is underperforming, tourism is down and so are bed taxes, and then there are those lucrative, sweetheart union contracts former Mayor Begich pushed through in the dark of the night at the last minute, which added $110 million to the city's budget over the next five years.

Thanks to Mr. Begich's big-spending ways, Mayor Sullivan now has to find a way to come up with at least $420 million a year to run the city. And because of those locked-in union contracts Begich pushed through for his union buddies, that number will grow each year even if there is no new spending or inflation increase.

The vast majority of the city's budget goes toward wages and benefits of city employees, most represented by unions. Is it possible, just possible, some of the city salaries are too high after six years of the pro-union Begich administration? After all, the former mayor did increase the size of the budget an unprecedented $150 million in his six short years. Begich increased department program spending a shocking 49 percent in his two terms. All that new spending despite only a 4 percent increase in population during the same time. And don't blame inflation. That only went up 20 percent. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Begich has left us with what Hollywood would call a perfect storm.

Mayor Sullivan has no choice but to make tough choices and cut the budget. Either raise taxes significantly or make tough cuts. The unions say anything but cuts.

Fire Department union boss Tom Wescott, who is forced to survive on only $151,563.91 a year in taxpayer-funded salary and benefits, called Sullivan's potential cuts discouraging.

According to a public records request filed by the Alaska Standard, the city paid more than half of its full-time employees more than $100,000 last year in wages and benefits. That's right: More than half of city employees are paid a six-figure compensation package.

Close to 200 city employees were paid more than $150,000 a year in salaries and benefits last year.

How high do the taxpayer-funded city salaries go?

Fire Department safety officer Michael Murphy seems to be doing quite well with his salary and benefits totaling $180,711.93 last year.

How about ML&P dispatcher Douglas Hall? The city pays him a yearly salary with benefits of $183,276.22. Not bad for working a two-way radio.

Nathan Justice, also with ML&P, does just fine. He was paid $212,869.57 in salary and benefits for working in the warehouse.

Most of the really big salaries of city employees come from ML&P or the police and fire departments.

Jeffrey Briggs is the highest paid fire department employee, with a compensation package of $195,543.57.

Earl Earnest makes the most as a cop. He's a patrol officer and was paid last year $71,663.17 in overtime, bringing his overall salary and benefit package to $214,887.64.

And who gets the distinction of being the highest paid city employee? A fellow by the name of Gary Faraday. Faraday works for ML&P and was paid $219,592.62 in salary and benefits last year.

Those ML&P guys seem to do real well. Ten of the 20 top-paying city jobs go to ML&P employees.

Some may argue we need to pay big salaries to get good-quality employees. Good point. Patrol officer Anthony Rollins was paid last year a benefit package totaling $190,540.02. He stands accused of sexual assaults on six women while on the job. We really got our money's worth on that one.


Dan Fagan hosts a talk show on AM750, KFQD. You can reach him at faganreport@me.com.

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