Along with tax bills, Anchorage homeowners get mail from mayor castigating Assembly

This is the time of year when homeowners in Anchorage receive their tax bills. And last June, those bills were accompanied by a letter — sent to about 92,000 mailboxes — telling residents they would have paid less had Anchorage Assembly members accepted Mayor Dave’s budget proposals. Bronson.

Assembly members issued a repulsive statement on Friday, calling the information in the letter inaccurate and biased.

The letter, signed by Bronson, said that under the mayor’s original plan, the budget would be $4.6 million lower than the previous year, thanks to new operational efficiencies and departmental cuts, enabling the owner of a mid-priced home saves $560 on his tax bill. .

“Unfortunately, the Assembly chose a different course and passed a budget that increases both spending and property taxes. I vetoed many Assembly increases, but they overruled my vetoes. The Assembly chose to expand government and increase spending by millions of dollars,” Bronson wrote.

The letter encourages residents to contact Assembly members “regarding their decision to raise the budget and taxes during this time of economic uncertainty.”

According to the Assembly’s Legislative Liaison, the letter caused an influx of emails and messages to lawmakers.

“The mayor’s letter to taxpayers contains inaccurate and misleading information that demonstrates at best a misunderstanding of public finances or, at worst, a deliberate strategy to mislead the public for political purposes,” budget committee leaders said. of the Assembly in the communiqué.

“The biggest factors impacting property taxes this year have been the state paying off school bond debt and rising property values,” said Forrest Dunbar, one of the two co-chairs. of the committee.

Beginning in 2015, state legislators stopped reimbursing school districts around Alaska for the debt they incurred for school improvements, shifting the burden of repayment to local governments. In Anchorage, that meant landlords footing a bill of tens of millions of dollars a year that the state pledged to pass on, infuriating local officials trying to balance budgets. This year, lawmakers approved funds to pay off related school debt, in a bill signed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Property values ​​rose in 2022 in Anchorage by 8% to 10% in most neighborhoods, part of a national trend of rising real estate prices driven by insufficient supply, lower borrowing costs cheap and pandemic trends. The average price for a single-family home in 2020 was $394,000. In 2021, that average has risen to $421,000. With rising home values, the average mill rate – the rate applied to a home’s assessed value that is used to calculate a person’s property tax – has decreased proportionally to keep the municipal budget in line with the tax cap. The arithmetic in the mayor’s letter assumes home prices have held steady year over year, despite the jump.

Bronson “wrongly implies that taxes have increased significantly this year, when for most homeowners taxes have remained relatively flat,” the budget committee said.

“The big area in my mind where that letter went wrong is in how the rates per thousand were discussed and the reasons for the decrease,” said Jason Bockenstedt, who served as chief of staff under former mayor Ethan Berkowitz and former acting mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson. “The reason for the drop in the per mill rate this year is due to two things: school bond debt repayments have been paid and, for the second year in a row, we have seen an increase in the value of people’s properties. “

In recent years, other Anchorage mayors sent a letter to residents alerting them to legislative policies affecting their tax bills and city finances. These letters were softer and blamed state legislators, not an equal branch of government. Both the Berkowitz and Quinn-Davidson administrations sent short memos informing homeowners that part of the increase in their tax bills resulted from the State of Alaska’s failure to meet its pre-existing debt repayment obligations. school bond debt. But there were no calls for action against local government partners.

Dunbar said about three-quarters of messages from residents supported the Assembly, with the remaining quarter criticizing their spending, a similar proportion to that reported by Assembly Legislative Liaison.

Some of the comments received by officials questioned the legality of the mayor’s office using public funds to send a letter on official letterhead criticizing political opponents and asking if it violates a section of city code prohibiting the use of “municipal resources for political or political purposes”. partisan activity.

“There’s nothing partisan about keeping homeowners informed of decisions about why their tax bill has changed,” Bronson spokesman Corey Allen Young said. “It is a historical practice for mayors to include an insert with tax bills, it is not new or unique to this administration. The letter was sent to inform property owners of the tax bill on the basis for decisions made by the Anchorage Assembly.

Young denied that the letter was fake.

“The mayor’s numbers are accurate and true,” he said, adding that he thinks Dunbar should “focus less on shouting through the media and focus more on helping his constituents and whole of Anchorage by being a good steward of taxpayers’ money”.

According to figures provided by the mayor’s office, the cost of the letters was approximately $12,000, the same amount spent on similar tax mailings in the past.

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