Anchorage Adopts Budget After Battle Over Utility Funds, Public Safety Jobs

Alaska’s largest city has passed its budget.

But not without vetoes coming from the mayor’s office and a last minute deal over money connected to a utility the Administration has proposed privatizing.

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The final budget agreed to is $483.6 million. Getting there required a minor skirmish that Assembly Member Elvi Gray-Jackson called “messy.”

A number of new staff positions added through Assembly revisions to the Mayor’s budget were dropped. In exchange, the Mayor’s administration halved the amount it sought to transfer from a trash-collecting utility’s cash surplus.

“The final compromise was that instead of taking $4 million from Solid Waste Services we only took $2 (million) for property tax relief,” Gray-Jackson said after the meeting. “But the public safety vetoes were maintained.”

Gray-Jackson was one of a handful of a Assembly members that challenged the mayor’s budget during a meeting last week. They objected to the proposed fund transfer from SWS’s surplus, and added in line items worth $735,580 that many on the Assembly see as public safety necessities, including more dog-catchers, a homelessness coordinator, and a senior planner to handle new zoning issues arising from growing marijuana within the municipality.

The budget battle highlights a tension that’s been a recurrent theme in Anchorage city politics during Sullivan’s administration: public safety spending versus fiscal prudence.

Many believe the Administration’s emphasis on reducing the cost of government has become excessive given the Municipality’s growth

“You can’t expect the same amount of services for the same cost with a population that is no longer 200,000, but more than 300,000,” Gray-Jackson said. “It’s doesn’t cost the same.”

But the Administration maintains it is irresponsible to pay for new positions right now. Though this year’s budget is a 1.4% rise over last year’s, it’s still $1,619,555 below the tax-cap, something that Mayor Dan Sullivan believes is important amid a worsening financial outlook for the state.

“We didn’t want to see additional spending and adding of personnel at a time when we’re pretty sure we’re going to see some reduction in revenue sharing and additional state funding,” Sullivan said of his decision to veto the new staff positions.

The Assembly ultimately approved the final version of the revised budget.