Whittier voters approved an increase in the city’s sales tax from 3 to 5 percent. The vote was close with 55 approving the increase and 48 voting against it. Whittier’s sales tax is collected seasonally from April 1 through Sept. 30. Food sold for domestic home consumption will be exempt from the tax.
The city had been in a fiscal crisis since the end of 2005 when emergency measures were put into effect, including the freezing of all nonessential or non-emergency spending and layoffs of all seasonal employees, reducing the number of positions funded through the General Fund by more than 50 percent, and allowing vacant positions to remain unfilled.
As of Dec. 31, 2006, the city implemented other measures to offset an accumulated budget deficit of $339,247.
General Fund revenue enhancements have been implemented by the city, including 100 percent increase in the passenger transportation business tax, raising the sales tax cap for a single purchase from $5,000 to $7,500 and creating a 1.5 percent per gallon fuel excise tax for marine vessels outside the harbor (vessels taking on fuel in the small boat harbor are already subject to a 2.5 cent per gallon fee).
The cost cutting measures and revenue enhancements appear to have worked, and the city is expected to have a budget surplus entering 2008. The city has also added one full-time police officer and a public works employee for the winter season.
Additional annual revenue from increasing the local sales tax to 5 percent is estimated at $235,000.
The Anchorage Assembly on a vote of 10-1, approved a city-wide increase in garbage rates at its Jan. 29 meeting. The new rates go into effect April 1.
Girdwood’s transfer site rates will increase from $10 to $15 for pickup trucks.
“Generally, pickup trucks tend to carry a lot more,” said Mark Madden, the new Director of Solid Waste Services. “Usually, we have guys who clean out their entire garage and get charged only $10. But if you’re only carrying cans and bags, you’ll get charged the canned bag rate.”
The canned bag rate at the transfer station remains the same, which is $1 per bag up to five bags. The maximum price would now be $15 for six or more bags per load.
“The rate increase is to charge people who are putting trash in the landfill,” said Madden. “You and me.”
The city’s landfill is expected to close around 2043. The cost to close and maintain it for 30 years thereafter, as mandated by federal law, is about $47 million. Currently about $12 million has been saved to cover closure costs. The landfill encompasses 168 acres and has a capacity of 20 million tons. Right now, just under 7 million tons has been placed there.
The Forest Service issued a new special use permit for a period of ten years to Girdwood based Chugach Powder Guides (CPG). The permit is for commercially guided helicopter skiing on the Glacier and Seward Ranger Districts of the Chugach National Forest. The new permit began Jan. 2008 and expires Dec. 2017 and replaces their existing special use permit.
The permit allows CPG to access the following areas of the Chugach National Forest for 1,800 service days: Glacier-Winner, West Twentymile, North Twentymile, East Twentymile, Placer-Skookum, West Bench Peak, North Bench Peak, East Bench Peak and Grandview. CPG is also allowed 400 temporary use service days in the “exploratory” units.
“The exploratory units will be evaluated yearly to determine if the authorization would be reissued, modified, or not listed,” the Forest Service wrote in their decision memo.
None of the permit area includes Wilderness, Wilderness Study Areas, or National Recreation Areas.
“Monitoring of winter recreation activities suggests that there is very little overlap between non-motorized backcountry skiers and helicopter skiers,” it was stated in the memo.
In addition, several permit terms and conditions were cited to insure “that the public and other commercial operators are not excluded or adversely affected by CPG’s operations. For example, CPG is required to maintain a distance of half-mile horizontal distance or 1,500 feet above ground level from other users.”
Environmental groups have expressed concerns for heliskiing in mountain goat habitat in the Chugach Forest. The Forest Service stated that the winter goat habitat is larger than previously identified. Research is being conducted on goat habitat within the Chugach Forest to validate goat locations and movement patterns from collared goats. Goats were collared in 2006 and four additional goats in 2007.
Information from these goats will be retrieved and reviewed by the Forest Service in 2008 and 2009 and any modifications for no-fly zones or additional no-fly zones will be addressed in all winter recreation activities with goat habitat.