City seeks ideas on how to cut taxes, balance budget

Nathaniel Herz

City officials get frequent complaints from Anchorage residents about property taxes -- especially this time of year, since bills for businesses and mobile homes are going in the mail next week.

Mayor Dan Sullivan and his administration are answering the complaints with a question: If you want us to cut your property taxes, then how else can we raise enough money to balance the budget?

That's the challenge that will be posed to several civic groups next week, in a series of meetings at City Hall.

Unions, Anchorage Chamber of Commerce representatives, Assembly members, health and social service organizations and other budget stakeholders will all have a chance to make their suggestions as part of a "dialogue" process run by an outside firm hired by the Sullivan administration.

City officials will then decide whether or not the ideas are worth pitching to a broader audience, and, ultimately, to the full Assembly.

"If property taxes are too high, then how do we fix it?" said Larry Baker, Sullivan's senior policy advisor. "We have a tax structure--the majority of the revenue comes from property taxes. Is there something else that you, the public, would feel is a better mix?"

The city is paying Viewpoint Learning, the company running the meetings, about $7,000 to run the meetings and deliver an assessment, according to Baker.

The company has worked with Anchorage twice before -- once in 2010, when it solicited feedback on a broader set of questions about taxing and spending in the municipal budget, and then again last year when it asked citizens about how to improve the city's schools.

In the 2010 discussions, participants proposed boosting revenues with an alcohol excise tax, a seasonal or year-round sales tax, or raising fines and user fees.

Baker said he couldn't point to specific examples of policy changes that emerged from the two previous sessions. But Cheryl Frasca, a former Anchorage budget director and Assembly members, said that the city had increased some fees after the public discussions, and "on the spending side, we certainly used the priorities they set."

Frasca, who is now working for Viewpoint Learning to help coordinate the meetings, said that the results from next week's meetings will be delivered to Sullivan, who will then decide whether any of the ideas merit further exploration.

Assembly members are being included in the initial discussions in case the Sullivan administration ends up pushing for a legal change, said Baker.

"It takes six votes on the Assembly," he said.

Reach Nathaniel Herz at or 257-4311.