Mayor rethinks closure of South Anchorage fire station

Rosemary Shinohara

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan offered a revised and more detailed 2013 budget proposal on Friday with a major change for the fire department from earlier plans: He now says he wants to keep all fire stations open.

In initial plans, the Southport station would have been shut down to save money.

Instead of closing a station, the city would take two pieces of equipment out of service "as required" to meet other staffing needs: a ladder truck in Eagle River and a tender from the Huffman Road station in South Anchorage.

That would free up four firefighters a shift, 12 altogether, to fill in on other equipment, said Rod Harris, president of the Fire Fighters Union.

"I'm encouraged and glad to see work being done to improve the "B" budget (the version the mayor recommends)," Harris said. "We're still talking about two rig closures."

The rig shutdowns are intended to reduce overtime, according to budget documents.

The administration presented its latest recommendations to the Anchorage Assembly in a work session at City Hall on Friday.

On Oct. 3, the mayor first unveiled two versions of the 2013 city operating budget -- Plan A totalling $448.6 million, or $6 million less than this year; and Plan B, for $462.1 million.

Plan A results in the steepest cuts, to make up for a $30 million shortfall in the money it would take to pay for the same size government next year as this year.

Plan B, which Sullivan said he endorses, taps a new source of revenue to lessen the shortfall: local tax dollars that in previous years would have gone to the Anchorage School District. The state changed the formula for funding schools this year, so the state will pay a bigger share of school costs.

That will leave an additional $13.7 million in local taxes that could be used for local government instead of the school district.

Whereas Plan A calls for eliminating 187 positions, the majority of them vacant, Plan B cuts 69 jobs, most of which are vacant.

Plan B is what's on the table now, and Sullivan and the city's chief fiscal officer, Lucinda Mahoney, fleshed out the details of it Friday.

Here are examples of how the revised Plan B would affect different departments:

• Police department -- loses 19 vacant positions in patrol, the detective ranks and internal affairs, but keeps all filled positions including new recruits. Money to pay for a training academy for new officers is included.

• Fire department -- cuts 10 vacant positions and also two rigs as needed. Gets a training academy for future firefighters.

• Parks and recreation -- Suspends public swims at Service High pool; reduces contributions to groups such as Camp Fire and a youth employment program, reduces horticulture and some park maintenance.

• Community development -- eliminates a handful of planner positions, but adds a staffer for handling permits at the counter.

• Health and human services -- eliminates the homelessness coordinator; wipes out city funding of $205,000 for the nonprofit Anchorage Youth Court, and cuts back the air quality program.

Library -- no cuts.

• People Mover bus system -- no cuts.

Some fees, including bus fares, ambulance fees and rental rates for municipal buildings, would go up.

For example, the adult cash bus fare would rise from $1.75 to $2.

Assembly members interviewed Friday had a range of reactions to the budget proposals.

Dick Traini wondered why the administration even put together Plan A.

And he said he'll try to restore funding for Anchorage Youth Court, which also gets donations from other entities. It's a diversion program to keep some juvenile offenders out of the regular courts.

"Plan B is way better than Plan A," Patrick Flynn said. He thought libraries, the bus system and programs for young people generally came out OK, though he, too, is concerned about youth court.

Bill Starr asked the administration to look into the idea of staffing more fire department rigs with three people instead of four. Some engines and trucks already have three-person crews, but the city agreement with the union is to have eight of its trucks and engines staffed with four people at any given time.


Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.