Anchorage mayor wants to plug budget gap with better speeding tickets

AO 111 is an omnibus revision to the fine schedule, adjusting mostly to keep up with inflation while revising how offenses like speeding are handled by APD.
AO 111 is an omnibus revision to the fine schedule, adjusting mostly to keep up with inflation while revising how offenses like speeding are handled by APD.

In an effort to bring in more revenues to balance the budget, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz wants to update the city’s fine schedule. The minor fiscal move fits within a more contentious conversation about public safety staffing.

In trying to raise city revenues, the mayor’s administration came up with a fairly simple solution: Increase how much people have to pay for things like speeding tickets or “driving through a funeral procession,” which is one of the few line items that, at $75, is staying flat. And that is assuming there’s someone around to write the ticket.

The increases, though, are minimal. In fact, the Administration says they are mostly adjustments to the dollar amounts to keep up with inflation.

“A lot of those fees and fines haven’t been updated since 2001,” said Assembly Member Paul Honeman, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.

Redesigning how infractions like speeding tickets get issued–as this proposal also does–could ensure that more money per ticket makes it into city coffers, which in turn may discourage speeding. Because, as Assembly Members pointed out during a Wednesday public safety meeting, one is less likely to speed if it’s a more expensive penalty, or if the chances of getting caught are higher. And keeping people from breaking rules in the first place, Honeman explained, is a preventative policing strategy.

“If you look on the statistics of traffic violations, fatalities, collisions,” Honeman said, “when they have had an aggressive traffic law enforcement unit you will see a sharp decline in all those.”

The Administration anticipates a $1.1 million bump in revenues from collecting adjusted fees and fines at the same frequency they do right now. Not from writing more tickets.

“That’s how it’s currently projected,” Honeman said.

However, the police department’s capacity for finding traffic violations and esoteric infractions is dictated by how many officers are on the force, and how much unobligated time they have to write tickets.

Honeman thinks the Administration’s ongoing efforts to increase the size of the overall police force will eventually result in more enforcement over violations that bring in money from fines and fees.

“It won’t be an overnight thing,” Honeman said. “We’re asking the Administration to reinstate some of the units that they’ve had to, for lack of a better term, rob those units to put them back on patrol.”

Chief among them is the traffic unit, which currently has 8 officers covering everything from parking tickets to funeral procession interrupters across the municipality.

Another change is expected to come in an ordinance deleting the misdemeanor charges for using a screen device like a phone while driving and being discovered without car insurance. The change would mean that instead of being handled through a court process–something Assembly members were told adds additional costs without yielding a substantial portion of the fine–will be treated as a simple ticketable offense.