Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce had a simple message for people worried about potential budget cuts. Embrace them.
That was the message in the mayor’s semi-regular address via social media last week. He says a lot will hinge on whether the borough can keep collecting property taxes on its oil and gas properties.
“You will see some reduction in employees in the borough. We’re going to lose some teachers here. Plan on it. Short of the Dunleavy administration coming back and saying we’re not going to cut anything...here’s what I want to say: Try to embrace it.”
Pierce said to expect the situation to be similar to the oil price crash in the 1980’s.
“In 1985, oil went south of nine dollars a barrel. There were a lot of layoffs in the oil industry, a lot of folks left Alaska. I suspect we’re going to see a reenactment of that event. Hopefully it won’t be as large, but it could be. We lived through the ‘85 event. As Alaskans we’re tough, we’re persistent and we have a lot of hope. As it’s been stated, hope is not a real good plan, but we do have good plans. We’ve put strategic plans together here.”
But those don’t include much in the way of new revenues that might stave off those job losses, which economists have argued would only lengthen and deepen the state’s recession. Pierce said during his 20 minute, sometimes disjointed presentation, that he could balance the borough budget through cuts alone, if only the assembly would go along. He says an increase in property taxes won’t be part of his plans this year or in the future.
“I’m a guy who says let’s do it with no new taxes. The provision we’ve got here, the mill rate right now is set at 4.7 and to 2021, 2022 and 2023, I’ve still got it set at 4.7. And I can honestly say if I had five borough assembly members that would agree we’re going to balance things, and I believe we can do it without taxation, we’d have a balanced budget.”
The borough is projected to have a roughly $2 million deficit in the next budget. That could go up, depending on the final shape of the state budget.