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I live in Anchorage. What does Prop. 11 mean for my wallet?

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-03-11 16:51

Most Anchorage homeowners would pay less in property taxes if voters approve a proposition appearing on the upcoming April city ballot.

But there's a trade-off. People who own commercial and rental property, apartment buildings or more than one home will have to pay more in taxes as a result of the proposition. Taxes may also go up for the owners of the most expensive homes, according to data provided by the city.

The initiative, Proposition 11, is an attempt by the administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to shift up the city's tax burden away from people who own and live in their own homes. The measure, while cheered by some homeowners, is drawing a sharp response from business and commercial property groups.

Prop. 11 is one item on a packed ballot in the local election that starts on Tuesday. Anchorage is holding its first-ever vote-by-mail election. The city will mail ballots to registered voters on Tuesday. Ballots can be mailed back with a postage stamp or dropped off at a drop-box or a few accessible voting locations around Anchorage. The last day to vote is April 3.

[Anchorage will soon hold its first mail-ballot election. Here's what will change.]

With Prop. 11, the Berkowitz administration wants to exempt 20 percent of a homeowner's property value from taxes, up to $50,000. That's the limit set by state law. Right now, the city exempts 10 percent of a homeowner's property value up to $20,000.

"We've been hearing for a long time that people wanted property tax relief," Berkowitz, who is running for a second term as mayor, said in an interview Friday.

If you own a $350,000 home and qualify for the exemption, you would see your property tax bill drop roughly $400 if Prop. 11 passes, according to an analysis by the city assessor's office. The analysis was based on 2017 data; the final amount will depend on the tax rate set by the Anchorage Assembly in April, as well as the size of the city's budget.

Property taxes would rise for homes valued at $5 million or more, the assessor's data show.

Meanwhile, taxes on commercial property and other property that doesn't qualify for the exemption would rise about 1.2 percent. Berkowitz said that amounts to an increase of about $114 a year for a $600,000 parcel. He said federal deductions could help defray the hike.

The tax hike on commercial properties would have been higher to make up for the drop in residential taxes. But then the Berkowitz administration  proposed the city's first-ever tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. The gas tax took effect March 1.

"We looked for all the different ways to achieve property tax relief," Berkowitz said. "This package achieves that goal."

Anchorage has a higher property tax rate than the Kenai Peninsula Borough or Juneau, where there are sales taxes in effect.

Rodney Powell is the chair of the Anchorage Home and Landowners Association, known as HALO, and owns a home in Bear Valley. He said the broad feeling in his neighborhood is that homeowners are way overtaxed and businesses don't pay their fair share. He added that not everyone on the Hillside is wealthy.

"People downtown are trying to bleed us dry, that's what people up here think," Powell said.

Powell said his home is valued at about $520,000, and he pays $7,500 a year in property taxes. The proposed exemption change would save him a few hundred dollars. That doesn't feel like that much, Powell said.

Not every homeowner agrees with Berkowitz's plan. David Pelto, who owns a condo in the Campbell Park area, said he's a lifelong Alaskan and thinks he gets what he pays for with his current property tax bill. He said he doesn't see a point in shifting the taxes to other property tax payers, and the city should adopt a sales tax.

"I'm amongst those folks who say, hey, we haven't been paying our way for a long time," Pelto said. "It's time for us to suck it up and start paying."

Meanwhile, a prominent association of commercial property owners, managers and leasing agents has come out against Prop. 11, saying it's unfair.

More than 63 percent of the property in Anchorage is residential, and 29 percent is commercial.

In a recent resolution, the Anchorage Building Owners & Managers Association predicted Prop. 11 would stifle new development and threaten businesses that are dealing with the recession. Commercial building owners were skeptical about the city's estimate of the size of the tax increase. The resolution said higher commercial property taxes would be passed along to tenants with an increase in rents.

"The great majority of these tenants are small businesses-owned and operated by the 'home owners' the mayor believes he is helping," the resolution said.

Rebecca Logan, Berkowitz's main challenger in the mayoral race, said during a recent mayoral forum that Prop. 11 would punish businesses during a recession.

Berkowitz said reducing property taxes for most homeowners would stimulate the local economy. BOMA vice president Kevin Powell, who works in business development at ENSTAR Natural Gas, said the association feared the trickle-down effect of the higher taxes would cancel out any boost to the wider economy.

Powell said he owns a home and not a commercial business, and he would expect to save about $300 in property taxes. But he also said he drives a lot, and the gas tax will cut into any property tax savings brought about by Prop. 11.

"It's kind of a wash, really," Powell said.

Berkowitz, who owns a home as well as several commercial properties in Anchorage, characterized his tax plan as a necessary step to give the city a more diverse revenue stream that relies less on property taxes from homeowners.

"Business owners know there's no easy way to achieve that," Berkowitz said.

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Legislative News - Sun, 2018-03-11 16:48
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RACE UPDATE: The leader in Unalakleet, Nic Petit chases a first Iditarod win

Alaska News - Sun, 2018-03-11 16:33

UNALAKLEET — Girdwood racer Nicolas Petit arrived in Unalakleet at 1:40 p.m. today in the lead of the 2018 Iditarod. DeeDee Jonrowe greeted the musher with a hug, and Petit planned to stay for a rest at this Bering Sea coast checkpoint as Joar Leifseth Ulsom and Mitch Seavey close in.

Petit, who is racing with 13 dogs, carried one husky in his sled. He quickly traded his heavy-duty "bunny boots" for sneakers.

[Jake Berkowitz: There will be a new Iditarod champion this year. Here's how Petit could do it]

After a string of wins in middle-distance races, Petit has set the pace for stretches of this slower-paced, relatively drama-free Iditarod. Seavey and Ulsom had temporarily passed a sleeping Petit — who was resting with his lead dog on his chest — on the long Yukon River run. But Petit said he awoke and gave chase, reclaiming the lead.

"I got to see how they were looking and gained a little bit of confidence," he said today.

Accounting for daylight saving time, Petit left Kaltag with a roughly half hour lead on Ulsom and Seavey, who departed within two minutes of each other.

Petit said he decided not to blow through Unalakleet (mile 737) because, "I'm hungry and there's bacon." Plus, he said, "dogs like checkpoints."

And what a checkpoint it is.  Here in Unalakleet, Iditarod volunteers, race officials and locals packed two long tables at the bustling checkpoint building here Sunday morning, as residents Aurora and William "Middy" Johnson flipped sourdough pancakes, cooked bacon and brewed coffee.

Everyone waited for the first mushers to arrive.

From here, it is about 220 miles to Nome. The next checkpoints, up the windy Bering Sea coast, are sometimes among the toughest of the race.

"As you can see in our checkpoint, we have a lot of people, a lot of noise, a lot of visiting which is great," Johnson said. "It's great for us. It kind of brings the community together."

Johnson competed in the 2010 Iditarod. His grandfather, Henry Ivanoff, was one of the 20 mushers who relayed diptheria serum to Nome in 1925.

Early Sunday afternoon, temperatures hovered here around 7 degrees. A group of children went sledding on the snowy hill between the checkpoint building and the trail below, that skirts the edge of this Bering Sea town, where about 750 people live.

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Hi, everybody! Tegan Hanlon here, I’m a reporter with ADN. Loren Holmes and I are following the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race this last week. Today, we’re here in Unalakleet, waiting for mushers to arrive.

Posted by Anchorage Daily News on Sunday, March 11, 2018

The bales of straw were stacked. The teams' bags of gear and food laid out. And the spare sleds that mushers had sent to the checkpoint stood in a line.

"We started up the frying pans this morning and they'll quit sometime Thursday," Johnson said. "We go through about 50 gallons of sourdough starter, a couple hundred pounds of bacon and anything else that people bring in to eat."
Inside the checkpoint, two-time Iditarod champion Robert Sorlie, who is snowmachining the trail this year, poured himself a cup of coffee. Iditarod chief veterinarian Stuart Nelson watched the race tracker, playing on a large television screen that sat atop a pool table.

Mark Nordman, Iditarod race marshal and race director, ate bacon wrapped in a sourdough pancake — turning breakfast portable.

"I've been doing this 35 years," he said. "I've got it down."

In Unalakleet, #Iditarod musher Nic Petit trades bunny boots for sneakers. #2018Iditarod pic.twitter.com/V7yRO4HTUB

— Tegan Hanlon (@teganhanlon) March 11, 2018

Nordman said he would describe the 2018 Iditarod as both "exciting" and "calming." The trail has not been particularly treacherous this year. While teams got trapped in a few storms so far, those storms have not been as extreme as in years' past.

"The dogs I think do better when it's warm like this, and softer trail," Nordman said. "Everybody's just kind of chill."

Before the race, the Nordman said a lack of sea ice would likely push a section of the upcoming trail between Shaktoolik and Koyuk closer to the coast. However, he said, by Sunday it looked like the trail would remain on its typical course — cutting across the sea ice.

While Iditarod mushers Nic Petit, Joar Leifseth Ulsom and defending champion Mitch Seavey remained the three in the lead, Nordman said anything could happen.

"It's definitely not over," he said. "It's been a really exciting race."

If he had to guess, he said, he would expect the first musher into Nome at about 3:30 a.m. Wednesday — slower than the 2013 Iditarod, the last time the race followed the southern route and much slower than the 2017 Iditarod, when Mitch Seavey set a new record.

(NOTE: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect amount of time between Petit's departure and the other mushers because it did not account for the time change.)