Sullivan proposes $8 million increase in municipal budget

Even with a surplus, property taxes will be increased.

April 13, 2011 

Mayor Dan Sullivan has proposed adding another $8 million to this year's $435.7 million city spending plan.

The changes would result in a $2.5 million increase in property taxes compared to the budget Assembly members approved in December.

The city normally tweaks its current-year budget around this time of year, just before setting property tax rates and mailing tax bills across the city.

Some of the proposed spending increase is a result of unanticipated expenses such as a rise in workers compensation rates. Some is to pay for priorities like a police department training academy, while another chunk is to take care of obligations such as environmental clean-ups, city officials said.

The final budget would be $6.5 million less than the maximum allowed under the city's tax cap, which limits annual spending increases.

Sullivan talked about the recommendations at his weekly press briefing Wednesday, including what to do with an $11 million balance left over from the 2010 budget.

The city made a round of deep cuts -- eliminating jobs and reducing overtime, for example -- last year, and that resulted in spending less than was budgeted.

Sullivan said he wants to use $6.7 million of that $11 million for property tax relief, which keeps the tax increase from ballooning further.

During his press briefing, Sullivan credited city staff for "holding the line on expenses."

"Our department managers have enthusiastically joined us in a culture of thrift," he said.

He also took a swipe at the last administration of Mayor Mark Begich, saying it did not manage spending as well.

Besides using much of last year's savings to cushion property tax increases, Sullivan proposes spending $1.45 million to pay for environmental clean-ups at Kincaid Park and on city property off Reeve Boulevard near Commercial Drive. Another $3.1 million would repay an old loan from Municipal Light and Power to the city.

With additional funding, Sullivan proposes to spend:

• $882,000 on a police training academy.

• $203,000 in local money to hire firefighters, to be coupled with a $1.6 million federal grant.

• $250,000 to retrofit a warehouse to store property from homeless camps -- a move that helps solve the problem of not being able to clear out illegal camps.

• $84,000 to add a domestic violence prosecutor to the city attorney's office.

• $3.1 million for unanticipated costs ranging from a $1.8 million increase in the city's Workers Compensation rate to $227,000 more to buy fuel for People Mover buses

• $300,000 for a consultant to look for efficiencies in the city's maintenance and public works departments.

• About $1 million for voter-approved increases, including six employees to staff a new ambulance in Sand Lake.

The city also is expecting $1.9 million less in revenue. For example, money from tobacco taxes is anticipated to come in $700,000 below the amount budgeted for 2011. The city thinks smokers stockpiled cigarettes before the tobacco tax rate went up in January.

The mayor's team will present its recommendations to the Assembly at a meeting at 11:30 a.m. Friday in city hall.

Assembly members are scheduled to consider these first quarter revisions, and set property tax rates, at the Assembly's April 26 meeting.

They may have some ideas of their own on how to spend last year's leftover cash.

For example, Midtown Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson said she's thinking about restoring a bus route to Mountain View that was cut during last year's belt-tightening.

"We should reinstate bus service to people who need to go to work," she said. "I'm going to look at it."


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at rshinohara@adn.com or 257-4340.

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