With a national recession, a shaky local economy and a property tax-limiting initiative staring them in the eye, the 10 active members of the Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday night trimmed a few million dollars here and there and sent bond propositions totaling around $141 million to the April 7 city election.
It wasn't easy to go from $155.7 million to $141 million, and it certainly wasn't unanimous, and especially as a jittery charter-imposed midnight cutoff approached, it wasn't always clear exactly what was happening.
The upshot -- these bonds will be on the ballot:
• A $69.88 million school bond. It would raise money to renovate and rehabilitate Service High School, pay to design a new elementary school in Girdwood and finance a water and sewer extension to Eagle River High School.
• A $27.48 million school bond for maintenance projects in schools across the district. The work would include sprinkler system upgrades, roof work, electrical and mechanical projects, traffic safety, among other projects.
• A $34.2 million city roads and drainage bond. This one started the evening as a $43.9 million proposal, but shrank as the most controversial elements of a north Spenard Road reconstruction project were sliced away, along with trims to a few other projects.
• About $1.85 million for parks and trails improvements. The Assembly cut $750,000 from the original bond proposal.
• A $1.5 million bond for library improvements. The Assembly voted 6-4 to delete $3 million originally earmarked to replace the city's public health facility.
• Around $1.3 million for public safety and public transportation improvements. Cardiac monitors survived. A Sand Lake ambulance did not.
• $3 million for expansion of the main police station and construction of a shooting range. The Assembly sliced $1 million from the original total.
• $1.8 million to replace a fire department ladder truck and renovate fire stations. No Assembly reductions.
The Assembly is playing short-handed these days. After former Mayor Mark Begich left office on Jan. 3 to become a U.S. senator, city law made Assembly Chairman Matt Claman the acting mayor until July 1, the earliest date a new mayor can be sworn in. In Claman's absence, the 11-member Assembly is a 10-member body susceptible to five-member splits in a system where six votes are needed to approve anything.
And this bond package, a big one, came to the group at an especially difficult time.
Anchorage proper so far has dodged most of the fallout from the national recession, but both the city's long-term and short-term investments have suffered. Claman recently announced a $17 million budget shortfall for the coming year, and both he and the Assembly are trying to figure out how to close the gap. Just as the city's investments shrink, so do those of Anchorage residents. In meetings about union contracts and budgets over the last several weeks, Assembly members have heard from worried people.
Tuesday night was no exception.
The first person up to talk about the biggest school bond was Adam Trombley. This may not be the best time for the city to go deeper in debt, he said.
"There has to be some kind of common sense involved when it comes to other people's money."
But school bond supporters were out in force, especially behind the biggest bond, which has as its biggest element a major overhaul of Service High School.
Students, parents, former students, teachers: They all said Service is way overdue for the big fix.
Add to that choir former Assemblyman Bob Bell, more often than not a skinflint during his years in charge of the city's tax dollars.
Bell said Service has been getting stiffed for years while other district high schools got upgrades.
"Clear back in 1993 we were going to do major renovations of Service High School," Bell said. But school and city officials decided to build or improve other schools first -- Goldenview Middle School, then others, and others. Service always got passed over, he said.
Assemblywoman Jennifer Johnston, who voted for the Service bond, said she did so with trepidation.
"I'm fearful it's not going to pass," Johnston said. And when the project comes back in a future year, then voters will say, "We told you, no ... Why are you bringing it back?"
Eagle River-Chugiak Assemblywoman Debbie Ossiander, a former school board member, argued that the smaller, maintenance school bond on the ballot will have a better chance this year, when people are worried about what's going to happen. She voted against sending the bigger school bond to voters.
"One of the things you do when you're watching your pocketbook is make sure what you've got is maintained," she said.
TRIMMED SPENARD PROJECT
Assembly members did their only serious bond trimming on bonds proposed for city projects and improvements, and they did so with a series of complicated changes passed under the pressure of a ticking midnight deadline.
The most easily understood of those switches was one of several changes to a $43.9 million roads bond. The most controversial element of that multi-project package is a planned reconstruction of the north end of Spenard Road, from Chester Creek south to Fireweed Lane.
Many business owners along that strip of Spenard are vehemently opposed; Sunrise Bakery manager Larry Brandt said the kind of upgrade city planners have in mind would drive his company out of business and cost the jobs of up to 100 employees.
But community council officers and residents in the area for the most part said the improvements in the city's plan would slow traffic and make things a lot safer for pedestrians and drivers alike.
In the end, the Assembly sliced this year's version of the project in half -- from $6.5 million to about $3 million. It left intact upgrades to the section of Spenard that drops from Hillcrest Drive to Chester Creek -- which no one opposes -- but puts off major street and traffic changes between Hillcrest and Fireweed.
Contact Don Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4349.