Public safety, homelessness funding drive unanimous support for Anchorage budget
The Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night unanimously passed next year’s budget that included a last-minute infusion to address the city’s homeless problem.
The 11-0 support for a $540 million budget brings an end to work that began when Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz proposed one of his final budgets as mayor.
The Assembly had three public hearings since the mayor rolled out his proposal, then it reviewed a handful of amendments Tuesday, passing three of them.
During an Assembly meeting break Tuesday night, Berkowitz said the budget reflects the city’s on-going priorities: public safety and homelessness.
He also said the vote reflects a collaboration he would like to see at the state level.
“We’ve done what we can to make sure our police department is continuing to grow, at this point the police department is about twice the size of the troopers in terms of the number of personnel,” he said. “We have achieved a Triple-A bond rating, a balanced budget and are able to make sure that we have a responsive government at a time where the state is in a perpetual crisis mode."
“We are making progress and resolving a lot of the long-term problems the city had, particularly with the Port of Alaska. So we are making progress; we are solving problems and moving forward. Building permits are up 13% of what they were last year. Some of that is attributable to the earthquake.”
The proposed budget included a $735,000 amendment to provide homeless shelters. In Assemblywoman Meg Zaletel originally sought $2.4 million but carved out a smaller amount.
In her amendment proposal, she wrote, “With adequate shelter, camp abatement may proceed uninterrupted and stop the whack-a-mole issues currently being experienced. Also, there will be no late-season scramble to identify and obtain emergency overflow shelter, which the Municipality funds at nearly half a million dollars.”
Just before the vote, Berkowitz addressed the Assembly on the city’s homelessness crisis.
“What we’re talking about here with this amendment is just one component of what the need is,” he said. “We have been insistent for a long time that the municipality do what it can do to resolve the question of homelessness."
“I appreciate the community and frustration with the inability to solve this problem. It’s more than the frustration of those who are housed and contending with individuals who are on our streets and in our parks. We have, I think a moral obligation to help address those issues.”
The budget also included:
- A $15,000 amendment for a land-use study to select a site for the Chugiak Eagle River Cemetery. The amendment proposed by Assembly member Crystal Kennedy passed, 11-0.
- A $250,000 amendment to be awarded to a nonprofit that will help students in various school programs.
- Nearly $2.7 million for public safety that will include money for more patrol officers and academies.
“Public safety is the top priority; it’s the most important thing we do and can do. It's one of the reasons why we're continuing to grow the police department,” Berkowitz said. "Public safety is far more than law enforcement. We are now heading to a point where the budget is stabilized and we can start making other aspects of public safety.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated this was Mayor Ethan Berkowitz's final budget. He will be proposing a budget for 2021. The story previously stated a $60,000 amendment passed for a land-use study to select a site for the Chugiak Eagle River Cemetery. This has been corrected. The previous story also said money was approved for more trail officers; however, this money covers other types of officers as well.
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