Fact-checking Dunbar: Anchorage's operating budget cannot be cut? - Must Read Alaska
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Thursday, May 13, 2021
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Fact-checking Dunbar: Anchorage’s operating budget cannot be cut?

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In a recent televised debate, mayoral candidate Dave Bronson said that he will find ways to trim the municipal budget so the city can make property tax rebates to those who had to pay those taxes during the months that their businesses were closed by order of the mayor during 2020.

It’s a matter of fairness, Bronson said: To shut down businesses and then charge them property tax during the shutdown is morally wrong.

His opponent, Forrest Dunbar, who came into office in 2016 and voted in favor of ever-expanding budgets under his political mentor Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, says no tax rebates will be allowed under the Dunbar administration. He also claimed the budget is actually already cut, and he challenged Bronson to name where he’d cut.

“If we want to be an economically competitive city with the rest of the world, with the rest of the country, we have to offer unique quality of life. That means safe streets, good schools, things like parks and trails,” Dunbar said. “We can’t have huge cuts to these services and expect people to want to move here, to remain here, to start businesses here or to retire here.”

Anchorage, under Berkowitz and Dunbar, has developed a unique quality of life. It is not known for safe streets, and even it’s once fabulous parks and trails are no longer bragging points, since many residents find them unsafely occupied by drug-addled vagrants. Dunbar, who is not married and has no children, may not be in touch with just how low-performing the public schools in Anchorage have become.

Dunbar was in lockstep with Berkowitz, who had been elected the year prior and served until his fall from grace and hasty resignation on Oct. 23, 2020. The men, and the majority-liberal Assembly grew the budget by over $69 million during those years, a 14.3 percent increase in just five years. Dunbar also successfully pushed passage of a beverage tax during his tenure on the Assembly.

If the budget had kept pace only with inflation, the Anchorage budget would today be about $540 million, but instead it has increased beyond the rate of inflation from $481 million to $550 million.

For comparison, the cold climate city of Buffalo, N.Y, has a budget of $519 million for an equivalent population of 261,310, while the cold-climate city of Lincoln, Neb. has a budget of $210 million for a population of 289,102.

Former Mayor Dan Sullivan found he had to trim the budget in 2009 after he inherited an untenable fiscal crisis from former Mayor Mark Begich, who had drained every savings account to pay for his pet projects. Sullivan proceeded to ask all department heads to offer ways to cut their budgets by a few percentage points, and he also rolled back executive employee salaries by 5 percent. He also reduced staffing through attrition and retirements.

According to the Alaska Policy Forum, there were 2,940 full-time employees and 390 part-time or seasonal/temporary employees in the Municipality. The average salary and benefits cost for full-time employees is $128,162, as of 2017. Some data points are captured in the APF study of the 2017 Anchorage Municipal payroll.

That, of course, was before the Muni added the latest cost-driver, an equity officer hired from Tacoma, Washington for over $115,000 a year.

[Read: Equity officer hired from Tacoma]

Must Read Alaska rules the statements by Dunbar as Fact-Free.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Dunbar is full of crap. There is no way I could afford to retire here because they keep raising the taxes on my house so high, retirement isn’t a possibility. The city government is so bloated, it is ridiculous to claim the “budget” can’t be smaller.

  • Dunbar’s theories on building infrastructure for pleasure while increasing taxes is as malfunctioned as Bethel’s for building a Swimming pool/spa that loses a Million and a half dollars a year. Bethel can’t hire Police, Doctors nurses or jail guards to work there without a 2/2 schedule and tickets to fly and housing while they are in Bethel.

    Bethel has the highest water and sewer rates in America and can’t get it through their heads that no intelligent person moves to an imiginary utopia full of capital projects that drain their wallets and make a secure financial retirement, impossible.

    Then we could always open the door to a conversation on schools and a curriculum on dyslectic gender identification, dumb down math, and transgenders in girls sports which Dunbar supports.

    Anchorage, Deforrest your City and improve Alaska’s image.

  • Did the government close business’s? Is it any different than taking private property without compensation? Government rescue and recovery funds do not cover the cost of destroyed business and those funds are ultimately paid by the same people who’s economy was illigitimately taken from them.

  • For those living the ‘gubment gravy train’ things are great! Businesses are terrible! They interfere with free stuff for all. They interfere with people singing Kumbaya in the streets. And those nasty business people are so greedy wanting to keep everything they produce only for themselves! Why, under Dunbar maybe the city could just confiscate everything so all could be equal and we can just share. From each according to his abilities to each according to his needs. Just remember, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” The choice could not be more clear for Anchorage.

  • Oh Sure the Anchorage budget CAN be cut. The problem is you just dont want to cut it, cause it might mean laying off some Democrat friends.
    Budgets can be cut. A husband who has been paying for three autos (his own, his wife’s, and his child’s) can always sell the other two and have the family share one car paying for only one car’s mechanical, registration, and insurance costs to learning to use taxi, bicycle, bus services. The cut in the beginning would be a difficult adjustment, but will save the husband thousands of dollars.

  • The guy actually looks like an evil overlord wannabe.

  • He’s in touch of something……….🌈

  • What do you mean the operating expenses cannot be cut? Seriously, how about having the HHS department stop paying for ads telling you to plug in at 20? I bet those radio/tv/bus ads set the city back six figures a year (likely seven but I have no idea what an ad costs these days.)
    .
    I am pretty sure the city can survive without a chief equity officer as well. There is another six figures.
    .
    And, can someone please tell me what the Assembly does to warrant $60K+ a year pay? Anyone? Anyone?
    .
    Oh, what else??? How much will be saved if the school district did not have their own maintenance department? What is so special about a school that it needs its own maintenance department?
    .
    The list goes on and on. Politicians, when confronted with budget questions, like to focus on police, firefighting, roads, and libraries. They do that because these are the things most people are concerned about. And, that is exactly why they go after those budgets first when pushing for tax increases.
    .
    Dunbar is doing exactly that when he claims the city operating budget cannot be reduced. There are a world of places to cut, but he wants to keep the tax revenue high. So, when someone asks why he cannot cut the operations budget for the city, he will cherry pick the things that will cause the most distress, and ignore the rampant waste that is happening in the less obvious departments.

  • First Day in Office is any employee that has been added to the Payroll in the last year would be terminated immediately. Starting with the Equity Officer. There is no need for the position. The City Cleric and the City Attorneys pay would be immediately cut by 5-10%. There are many ways to cut budget but the current administration is trying to pay back their markers. The Union contracts should also be renegotiated from day one and any of them who do not want to renegotiate the contracts should be terminated for just cause.

  • We’ve all seen that the majority of Mr. Dunbar’s billboard signs have been spray painted over.

    It’s interesting to note that the majority of people spraying their own retaliatory message must not be familiar with the speed and efficacy of a paintball gun. Probably a different demographic.

  • I could probably cut it without hurting people. I know I could without upsetting peeps too. But if he can’t well he knows his limitations. Not good.

  • How to cut the budget? Simple.

    End all union contracts.
    Cut the bloated Muni staff
    Send the homeless back where they came from. Stop letting the villages dump their losers here.
    Sell the Golden Lion and all Ethan’s homeless hotels.
    Dump the new “inclusion” officer.
    End the stupid mask mandates and dump all the mask gestapo

    And that’s without even trying

  • It’s going to be interesting to see what Anchorage chooses.

  • Too many times acts against people have later been proven to have been done by themselves or members of their own party/movement….. Who knows; these acts may have beem done by Dumbar’s own cheerleaders to polarize voters even more……….

  • No city employee suffered in the last year, and all received a bonus.
    There is no check and balances from the immoral Assembly and wanna be Mayor.

  • Hint A: The bike plan, seven chapters, 217 pages glossy, colori🎋🥈d, annotated book was completely unnecessary. We like our city quite a bit just the way it is. Very nice bike paths and trails. We can and should stop right there.

    Hint B: We should assess in January. Not assess in May and demand payment in May after mismanaging for five months and driving countrymen into poverty. It is businesslike to allow tax planning rather than tax surprising as is now popular democrat maladministrative policy.

  • Give me the budget and a red pen. I’ll take care of it for you Forrest.

  • Is it just me or does anyone else see Forrest Dunbar as entirely unimpressive? There is absolutely no spark there…

  • How did this fruitcake end up on Anchorage Assembly?

  • @MAVERICK, come on dude – be civil. Be factual. Be intelligent.

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