State of the City address: Anchorage mayor talks crime, city budget, climate change
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz was upbeat about the city's finances at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce "Make it Monday" forum, where he gave his State of the City address in front of a packed room.
"I like to describe us as an island of stability in a sea of turmoil," he said. "We are the one functional level of government that people can count on."
Berkowitz said the city's budgets have been balanced, adding that the municipality is in a fiscally stable position with a AAA bond rating. He said those things make Anchorage worthy of investment.
"But it also is critical when we're fiscally stable for the businesses and families that exist here. Investments cannot exist without predictability and certainty," he said.
Berkowitz said the city could be doing even better.
"We are still buffeted by the failure at the state level to resolve its fiscal situation," he said. "We would be in such stronger position if they had a fiscal solution. Something beyond the very simplistic we're going to cut the budget and give people massive dividends."
Berkowitz also discussed climate change and told the crowd about some changes the municipality has made to deal with the issue while saving money.
"We've done things like put the largest rooftop solar array on top of the Egan Center. A payback time for that investment is less than eight years, or as I like to tell people it's a better rate of return than the permanent fund generates. That's significant," he said. "We switched out all the lights in the municipality, street lights to LEDs, and saving almost $800,000 a year in direct electrical costs. Not to mention the fact that there's reduced maintenance and the payback time for those investments is less than three years," he said.
Berkowitz talked about crime and efforts to fight it, including what he says is a dramatic cut in car thefts and reductions in vandalism and burglary.
"We all know that there are public safety challenges that this community faces. Some of them we can resolve with enhanced personnel. But some are dependent upon a community communicating its distaste for things like having the highest sexual assault and domestic violence rates in the country. We can no longer tolerate that," he said.
Berkowitz also told the crowd there are about 430 officers with the Anchorage Police Department. He said similar sized cities in the Lower 48 have around 600 to 700 officers, adding that's where the city should be headed.
He praised the Anchorage Fire Department but did not mention current overtime budget issues that have led to AFD pulling some fire rigs out of service when someone calls in sick, is on vacation or calls out for other reasons.
"A lot of those areas that don't have hydrants we need to make sure that there are reservoirs in place and build the kind of infrastructure that should exist out there because it's more than just sending a tender up over a prolonged period of time. That doesn't always solve the problem," Berkowitz said.
Anchorage Firefighters Union Local 1264 said since early October, AFD has taken fire trucks out of service because of overtime issues including removing a water truck at Station 9. The water delivery truck covers people who live on the Hillside in South Anchorage, where some parts do not have fire hydrants.
The water truck at Station 14 has also been taken out of service. It supports Stuckagain Heights, which also does not have fire hydrants.
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