Are we really still debating indoor tennis courts in this city?
I have mostly stayed away from this story, just because of the pure absurdity of it. However, it's the absurdity that it's still around that is making me wonder what is going on in the city of Anchorage?
The Anchorage Police Department Academy currently has only 16 recruits. This when Police Chief Mark Mew told the Assembly's Public Safety Committee that officers are "flooding the door." He expects to lose approximately 40 officers this year -- mostly to retirement.
This is at a time when Anchorage is dealing with increased gang activities, a rise in murder and more and more violent crimes hitting the newspapers every day.
However, our leaders' attention is focused squarely on tennis courts.
There is a tendency in these situations to argue that the city has no business spending money on more recreational outlets when we could be putting the money into education, police protection or other worthy places -- the "what about the children" argument.
That argument is a red herring -- an appeal to emotion. However, it's not entirely without merit.
The Anchorage School District claims it is facing a $25 million budget gap next year and is expecting that gap to continue widening through the next few years. This could mean higher student-to-teacher ratios, less money for gifted, special education and early education programs and cuts to services and supplies for teachers. (Many of whom already dip into their own pocketbooks to pay for necessary classroom supplies.)
However, the Anchorage Assembly is spending their time coming up with different ways to spend the $7 million allotted for tennis courts.
Anchorage Rep. Lindsey Holmes supported raising the "Project 80's critical and deferred maintenance" capital budget item to include money for an indoor tennis court facility in West Anchorage.
Rep. Bill Stoltze apparently is surprised that much money exists in the budget for the project. He told the Anchorage Daily News in a telephone interview, "I think it's outside of what the mayor had asked for, and he clearly deployed some deceptive practices."
"Next time I'm not going to trust the mayor of Anchorage. He's been less than forthright."
Holmes and Sullivan are still trying to track down the license plate number of the bus that Stoltze -- a fellow Republican -- threw them under.
Now there are multiple options on the table. Some think that the best option is for the Municipality to purchase the Alaska Club North, Assemblyman Bill Starr has proposed spending $4 million on tennis courts and appropriating the rest to upgrade the Sullivan, Dempsey Anderson and Ben Boeke arenas and Eagle River Assemblywoman Amy Demboski wants voters to make the decision on a ballot measure.
The Municipality of Anchorage, just like the State of Alaska is facing some serious economic realities. The state is facing a $2 billion budget revenue shortfall under the current tax regime, ACES. After the first of the year when the new tax structure under SB21 is supposed to have a similar outcome in terms of state revenue.
Gov. Sean Parnell made it clear at the forum hosted by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce that as a state and as communities, it's time for some belt tightening to make it through what budget cuts are able to be made. The state is tied in to a good portion of its finding through statutory formula funding. There is not a log of wiggle room within the budget to make cuts -- the Legislature is going to have a very difficult job deciding which important state services will have funding cut or have to be cut all together.
Meanwhile the municipality is debating building a $7.7 million facility that would host indoor tennis players year round.
Residents of Alaska and of Anchorage need to buckle down -- building new tennis courts is not something that should be on our agenda -- and it's in stark contrast to the promise he made to upgrade current recreational facilities and not build new facilities when Sullivan ran for mayor.
Anchorage isn't in a position to build this new tennis facility. We don't need it. We do, however, need to upgrade the facilities we have. We need to be more proud of the recreational options we have rather than building tennis courts that will sit empty next to a hockey arena that could use an upgrade.
Mike Dingman is a fifth-generation Alaskan born and raised in Anchorage. He is a former UAA student body president and has worked, studied and volunteered in Alaska politics since the late '90s.