The chair of the Anchorage Assembly says residents should expect to see a proposal for new taxes on the April 7 ballot and new revenues are needed to move the city forward.

"There's only so much that we can do within the budget that we have," said Assembly member Felix Rivera.

The Anchorage Assembly unanimously agreed on several key tasks for the upcoming year, announced in its 2019-2021 Assembly Priorities plan focusing on homelessness, public safety and economic development. The plan calls for increased spending and new hires. 

The plan includes:

  • Hiring a full-time public engagement officer 
  • Securing funding for the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness 
  • Hiring more 911 dispatchers
  • Increasing funding for public and alternative transit

"We shifted around money that the administration had proposed," said Rivera of the city's 2020 budget, adding that the Assembly was able to fund new bus routes this way.

But other areas will require new revenue. 

This month, the Assembly will consider several tax proposals for possible placement on the April 2020 ballot. One resembles the alcohol tax that voters rejected last year, while the others are temporary sales taxes, set in place for a defined period of time. 

  • AO 2019-148 – A 5% tax on alcohol projected to raise up to $15 million a year. The money would be dedicated to public safety, addiction treatment and domestic violence prevention.
  • AO 2019-148(S) – A second proposal is almost identical, but the money raised from alcohol sales would be limited to health and homeless issues.
  • AO 2019-156 – A third proposal would implement a temporary sales tax of 3% with half the money going to fund public safety and the rest to offset property taxes.

Rivera authored the alcohol tax proposal to fund public safety services. 

"We're looking at hiring more sworn and non-sworn officers. That's really important," Rivera said of projected revenue from the proposed tax. "The non-sworn could be things like 911 dispatch or it could be things like dealing with evidence."

This year, Assembly members approved the city's biggest budget, up about 14% since the start of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's administration.

"While our budget has increased, you will see that departments, except for police and fire, they've all gone down over the years," Rivera said. 

KTVA's Daybreak asked viewers whether they would support some sort of tax for city improvements in Anchorage. Nearly three-quarters of respondents said they wouldn't. 

"I understand that, especially if you look at the state's fiscal situation, we're not looking at a very positive fiscal situation," Rivera said of the live poll, which closed with 76% of respondents opposed. "But the reason that really all ends of the political spectrum on the Assembly are proposing different types of tax revenues is we need to become independent as a city."

Berkowitz and Assembly members will host a series of town hall meetings next week to talk about the city's fiscal situation and the tax proposals. 

  • Jan. 7 – Loussac Library, 6–7:30 p.m.
  • Jan. 8 – Chugiak High School, 6–7:30 p.m.
  • Jan. 9 – Girdwood Community Room, 6:30–8 p.m.

Rivera encouraged people to attend one of the meetings, which Assembly members hope will help them decide which proposal will be put forward. He said depending what they hear from the public, it’s possible they could change the proposals or put an entirely new one on the ballot.

While more than one proposal could go on the ballot, Rivera said he didn’t think that was likely to happen.

Public hearings on the tax proposals will be held at the Anchorage Assembly's Jan. 14 meeting when the body plans to vote on which proposal to move forward to the ballot.

More information on the meetings is available on the municipal website

Copyright 2020 KTVA. All rights reserved.

MORE NEWS HEADLINES: