City budget proposals would restore money to fire department

Rosemary Shinohara

The Anchorage Fire Department, threatened with having to shut down a fire station or take some apparatus out of service to save money next year, now appears likely to enter the new year with about the same resources as this year.

And Anchorage Youth Court, threatened with the loss of much of its budget, also looks to be winning a reprieve.

After holding two public hearings this fall, the Anchorage Assembly is expected to approve a budget at its Tuesday meeting, beginning at 5 p.m. in Loussac Library.

Early versions of the budget proposed by Mayor Dan Sullivan had the city shutting down one fire station, or at least two pieces of equipment, a ladder truck in Eagle River and a water tender in the Huffman Road area.

But in an Assembly work session Friday, chief fiscal officer Lucinda Mahoney said the city would be able to move more than $400,000 from elsewhere in the fire department budget into the department's overtime account. The city can also add $600,000 in one-time, leftover revenue from this year to the department's budget. The two moves will allow the city to keep all fire apparatus in service, she said.

Rod Harris, president of the Fire Fighters Union, said the administration had mistakenly calculated firefighter raises at 3.9 percent next year, when they're only getting 2.9 percent raises.

That's where the money that's being moved to pay for firefighter overtime is coming from, Mahoney said.

If for some reason that doesn't work or isn't enough, four Assembly members made proposals Friday to add $1 million to $1.5 million to the department's budget, if needed. They are Bill Starr, Dick Traini, Elvi Gray-Jackson and Paul Honeman.

Sullivan had originally proposed cutting the city's entire $205,000 annual contribution to Anchorage Youth Court, which trains students to run an alternative justice system for up to 300 youthful offenders each year.

But in a revised budget released late Friday afternoon, the mayor added the money back in. Six of the 11 Assembly members -- a majority -- also proposed a budget amendment to keep the youth court funding in for 2013. After next year, said Assemblyman Patrick Flynn, the city should ask the state to take on the expense since it is responsible for juvenile justice.

Other proposed amendments would add money to provide Tasers to all police officers (offered by Traini, Gray-Jackson and Harriet Drummond); eliminate some city planning money and instead spend that money to hire more police officers (Adam Trombley); add money to the library (Flynn and Ernie Hall) and add money to public transit (Gray-Jackson, Drummond and Traini).

Sullivan in early October presented two versions of the 2013 budget -- Plan A, that made drastic cuts to make up for a $30 million shortfall, and Plan B that takes advantage of new revenues, but still leaves an $18 million shortfall from what would be needed to continue services in 2013 at the same level as now.

The Assembly and administration are using Plan B, as a base. They also have available a few million in property tax dollars already collected, that the school district can't use this year.

The latest version of the operating budge toals $475.1 million, up more than $20 million from this year.

At public hearings Oct. 23 and Oct. 30, many teenagers and others testified in favor of keeping the youth court money in.

Dakota Jones, a South Anchorage High sophomore, said youth court benefits both the defendants and the students who serve as judges, lawyers, clerks and the like. Few of the defendants re-offend within six months, he said. Personally, he's become more confident and a better public speaker, he said.

Others testified against proposed bus fare increases, for more library funding, and against any fire department cuts in service.

Dixie Wright told the Assembly devastating delays can occur if the Eagle River fire station loses staff and some firefighters have to drive from Muldoon to help in an Eagle River emergency.

Her family lost two children, and two other children were severely injured, in an Eagle River house fire in 2007.






Reach Rosemary Shinohara at or 257-4340.