Monday, November 09, 2009

Selling Memberships to the Municipality of Anchorage

 The Mayor says we're in a bind financially and he has to make difficult choices.  Maybe he just needs to be more creative in finding ways to fund the government services we take for granted. 

Both public and private organizations offer memberships.  You can be a member of the Anchorage Museum - at several levels.  At each level of payment, you get an increasing number of benefits.  For example:
Individual $50
(One individual and children or grandchildren 17 and younger)
  • Unlimited general admission for one year
  • 10% Discount at the Anchorage Museum Shop and Café and the Science Store at the Imaginarium
  • Discounts on classes, films, lectures, and admission tickets to special exhibits as well as birthday parties and camp programs at the Imaginarium
  • Free admission to more than 400 science and technology museums around the world
  • Invitation to Members-only exhibition previews and special events
  • Annual subscription to Museum Today, award-winning newsletter
  • One year admission to family programs and activities, gallery talks and tours
  • 100% of membership is tax-deductible

If you spend $125 you can be a sustaining member and add more benefits.

The Alaska Club has Basic, Silver, Gold, and Platinum memberships.

Why not revise our Municipal Property tax into a multi-level Property Tax/Municipal Membership?  It might look something like this:

Basic level:
Members at the basic level have free access to the following services:
Travel on the streets, sidewalks, trail systems  (does not include busiest intersections during peak traffic hours)
Children may attend school free, but must pay for books
Free entry into libraries (but may not check out items or use the internet)
Two free police or fire calls per year

Silver level has all the benefits of Basic level plus:
Free access to choice of five busiest intersections during rush hours
10% discount on first traffic ticket and parking ticket
Three family passes to visit a park in Anchorage
Library card
Free books for children at school, free after school activity (ie sports, etc.) for one child per semester
Five free police or fire calls per year.
20% discount on Municipal Utilities bills

Gold level has all the benefits of Silver level plus:
Total free access on all streets at all times
25 hours of free parking in downtown parking lots
50% discount on first traffic or parking ticket
Free access to all parks, including special park availability for Gold level and above members
Unlimited police or fire calls
Unlimited after school activities for kids in school
50% discount  on Municipal Utilities
Free basic Museum membership

Platinum level has all the benefits of Gold level plus:
Priority snow plowing for neighborhoods that are >80% Platinum level members
Free parking downtown
70% discount on all Municipal fees or charges
10% discounts at events in MOA facilities

This is just a first quick draft, but I think it could work.  You'd have to set the normal property tax at a reasonable level, and then let people pay for premium levels.  Like paying for ski trail grooming, and museum membership; it would be about pride in your city with some extra privileges over people who pay the minimum.  It would also help to highlight what people all get from Municipal government and take for granted.

The only real problem is that much of government is a public good.  It's something where everyone benefits and excluding non-payers is hard - like city streets, using parks, clean air, etc.

That's why you'd still have to have a minimum charge everyone pays.  Cars could have stickers that show what level they pay.  And with new technology used in other cities, you could track who use the busy intersections at what times of the day.

You'd have to go through all the city services and see which ones could have premium levels or discounts.  You'd also have to calculate what to charge for each level so that enough revenue would come in.  And work out something  for renters.  Since they already pay property tax through their rent, perhaps they could just pay extra for the premium levels.  And what about people who don't live in Anchorage but work in town?  They could buy guest memberships.  Lots of possibilities here. 

Maybe there'd have to be a cafeteria plan, where you could pick a few from a list of possible benefits.  The higher your level, the more you could pick.  It would also allow people who don't think they use city services to just pay the minimum (but would they quit complaining about the things they don't pay for?)

Of course, there's no telling how many people would choose which level, but with the right mix of incentives, it could work.  


  1. So, why not just privatize all those services? I'm not in favor of that at all, but really if the good services are only going to go to those able to pay for them, why have the government involved at all?

    The rich kids can check out library books and the poor kids can't. Reagan would have loved it. After all, what have those poor kids ever done to deserve it?

  2. Well, in Hungary they reacted quicker on the crisis.

    The commenter above advised privatisation but I would be careful with that. There were problems with over privatisation in Hungary.

  3. CGinWi, The issue at present in Anchorage isn't so much about rich and poor, but about people who don't want to pay property taxes because they think a lot of the services are 'frivolous' and people who think we should pay to maintain Anchorage as a town with a good quality of life.

    Anchorage residents have a very low state and local tax burden. There is no sales tax and no income tax. Some ten year old Municipal charts show Anchorage the lowest of 50 cities in total local and state taxes, though I'm not sure if they picked the cities or it was the top 50 US cities.

    In addition, each Anchorage household gets a Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) check for EACH household member. This year's checks were $1305 per person. A family of four in an average priced home ($314,000) gets their whole property tax bill paid for by the PFD's and end up with $753 left over (See ADN for tax info).

    So, essentially, these people get more money back from the state and local governments than they pay. And they want to pay even less.

    So in our case, "city membership" would help get people to see what their taxes pay for. Make them realize how low their taxes really are for what they get. It gets everyone into a minimum level and then allows people to pay extra for more.

    But, as I said above, most benefits are public goods, where you can't exclude non-payers. And your point about the poor is relevant, and some additional provisions ought to be made for poor kids.

    But without some sort of action like this, the new Mayor is likely to try to cut out a lot of the public services and no one will have access to them, rich or poor.

    Actually, I think his budget cuts are a ploy to cut property taxes and replace the lost revenue with a sales tax, which would significantly benefit the largest property owners (large corporations) and be even or extra taxes for the average citizen.


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