Mayor Berkowitz’ choice: Safety or snowplowing – you can’t have both


The snow hasn’t been extraordinary in Anchorage this year. It seems so, after a couple of unusually warm winters, but it’s well within the norm for Latitude 61.

Removing it from the streets to make driving safer, however, appears to be more than the municipality can do.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz this week used the latest snowstorm for political advantage to drive home his message about the need for more taxes:

 “It’s a foreseeable consequence of not having adequate revenue to handle our responsibilities,” Berkowitz said. In layman’s terms: “I told you so. We need more taxes.”

For property taxpayers who are already shouldering the burden, it was an odd statement from a mayor who last year promised to give taxpayers a rebate after the city collected too much of their hard-earned cash.

RAISES FOR EVERYONE: Last year, Berkowitz also gave some 30 fire and police supervisors raises of $20,000 to $30,000 apiece. Those raises totaled $840,000.

As Assembly woman Amy Demboski pointed out, the city also gave $7 million in raises to city workers last year.

This week, the Assembly voted to approve a new IBEW contract that contains a 5.01 percent increase in pay and benefits for the next three years.

Demboski was not impressed: “When they continuously hand out raises…they are not living in reality.”

MORE POLICE OFFICERS, MORE MURDERS TOO: As a candidate in 2015, Berkowitz said the city needed 400 police officers. The city has now hit that target, but Berkowitz has moved the goalpost and now says the city needs 450 sworn officers. Anchorage had a record number of murders in 2016, and already this year two residents have been gunned down.

THE VANISHING REBATE: Last year the city ended up with about $20 million in excess funds received from taxpayers, and the plan in July of 2016 was to return a small portion — $5 million — of the money to property owners before December, 2016.

But first, Assembly members Eric Croft, John Weddleton, and Forrest Dunbar wanted to give the bulk of the excess money to homeless projects. The mayor in 2016 wanted to use some of the money to transition to a vote-by-mail election. And then the Assembly set an even higher mill rate for property assessments, with tax bills going up by about $45 for a property worth $300,000.

Six months after that discussion in the Anchorage Assembly, the rebate promised has never materialized. And it looks like taxes will be going up again.

This month, the mayor is proposing taking money from still more parts of the budget to pay for housing grants that will help people — some of them chronic inebriates or with mental illness — from becoming homeless. Berkowitz is proposing giving $216,000 to NeighborWorks Alaska for the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program, which helps with rent and security deposits for individuals and families in need.