In a 7-4 vote, the Anchorage Assembly approved a 2016 city operating budget of nearly $481 million Tuesday night that made no changes to the latest version proposed by Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
Over several hours of debate, the Assembly rejected, sometimes narrowly, amendments proposed by more conservative members of the Assembly that aimed to cut spending.
That included proposed cuts from Assembly member Amy Demboski to the travel, supply, equipment and furnishings budgets for various departments, and Assembly member Bill Starr's efforts to consolidate accounting positions across departments and reduce the number of long-range city planners.
The Assembly also voted against Assembly member Bill Evans effort to cut funding for the mayor's community grant program. Evans said he did not think property taxes should be used by the city for charity.
Evans, Demboski, Starr and Jennifer Johnston ultimately voted against the operating budget. Demboski called the budget "irresponsible" and said she was concerned about the level of spending.
Assembly member Tim Steele was in the majority supporting the budget. Echoing colleagues, Steele said he found it to be reasonable, but he was concerned about property taxpayers and looming state fiscal problems.
"Is it perfect? No, it's not," Steele said of the budget.
The Assembly will revisit budget issues in April to make first-quarter revisions. Assembly member Patrick Flynn said he expected reductions as the city tries to move off state support.
The approved operating budget adds $4.9 million to pay for three police academies and five new Anchorage Fire Department positions next year, and shaves $2.6 million from the 2015 budget. During the meeting, Demboski pointed out that while the budget is smaller by that amount, it also shifts about $2 million for SAP, a troubled and expensive city data systems upgrade project, to the city's capital budget.
The budget calls for a property tax increase of $11.4 million, or $50 more in tax for every $300,000 in valuation.
To balance the budget, city departments cut their budgets by 2 percent. The Assembly in early November approved increases to the amount of traffic tickets and fees for some city services.
The Assembly also in October passed a change to the city tax cap calculation that allowed the city to collect $1.4 million more in taxes. The operating budget is $262,405 below the tax cap.
The latest version of the budget from the Berkowitz administration, released Friday, incorporated two proposed amendments from Assembly members. One increased funding for the Senior Activities Center; the other added funding for Animal Control Officers.
The city also approved the Berkowitz administration's capital budget with one amendment from Assembly member Pete Petersen that changes the fund source to complete an upgrade project on Campbell Airstrip Road from state funding to bond funding. The city's final bond package is still forthcoming.
In his closing comments, Evans revealed plans to introduce a proposal for a sales tax at the Dec. 8 Assembly meeting. He said the city should be diversifying its tax base and take some burden away from property tax holders.
He said he doesn't entirely favor a sales tax himself, but he thinks the city should have a debate about it. The measure would need the support of 60 percent of voters.
Assembly Chair Dick Traini said he's also preparing to introduce a tax proposal to go before voters in April, but one relating to marijuana.