Anchorage Assembly passes budget with more money for police, less for other services

The Anchorage Assembly passed a nearly $504 million operating budget Tuesday night that adds money for police while cutting holiday bus schedules, snowplowing and other services.

During Tuesday night's meeting, the Assembly made minor additions. Those included: A small grant to a nonprofit Girdwood bus service; lessening a proposed staffing cut to the Anchorage Library; and extending an independent auditing contract for the city's pricey upgrade of its business software.

Mayor Ethan Berkowitz also brought forward a revised budget that incorporated suggestions made by Assembly members last week, such as rolling back proposed cuts to the Anchorage and Chugiak senior centers. He also restored nearly 40 percent of a proposed $210,000 cut to the mayor's community grant program.

The operating budget taps a mix of cuts, savings and new revenue to fill what the Berkowitz administration projected as a $38 million gap between revenues and expenses.

It includes a $3.1 million boost to the Anchorage Police Department budget to bring on more than 50 new officers, amid deep community public safety concerns sparked by a rising city homicide rate.

The Assembly voted 7-4 to approve the budget Tuesday night, with "no" votes coming from Assembly members Bill Evans, Amy Demboski, Bill Starr and Patrick Flynn. Starr and Evans both said the city hadn't done enough to rein in local government spending.

Those who voted in favor said it balanced cuts with bolstering public safety.

"There are cuts all over this budget to make up for concentrating on police," said Assemblyman Eric Croft.

Firefighters will take less overtime. A number of departments cut vacant positions, including the Anchorage Library. There were also cuts to supply budgets — which can range from pens to paint and steel bolts — and fuel budgets for city vehicles. 

Assembly members blocked efforts, however, to cut further from the Anchorage police and fire supply budgets Tuesday night as a way to maintain library staffing. Police Chief Chris Tolley told the Assembly that those supplies include vests, helmets and gun belts for officers.

Looking forward, the outlook for future city budgets is grim — in a document that offers a high-level view of expected revenues and expenses over the next six years, the Berkowitz administration projected annual shortfalls of between about $13 million and $18 million.

Those budgets would rely increasingly on property taxes and less on federal and state revenue, the document shows. Officials predicted the city would use its entire taxing capacity, or "tax to the cap," every year, according to the document.

The budget approved Tuesday translates into between a $12 and $13 increase in property tax per $100,000 of valuation, or a bump of about $46 for an average home. The owner of a $300,000 home paid about $4,386 in property taxes last year.

The Assembly will return to the budget in April to set the mill rate and make other revisions.