Alaska News

Former Anchorage mayors criticize 'ambulance bond' proposition

A new radio ad spotlights the opposition of four former Anchorage mayors to a bond proposition on the April 4 city ballot that would pay for new ambulances, public transit vehicles and school safety upgrades, with the mayors saying taxpayers can't afford the attached annual labor and maintenance costs.  

A spokesman for Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz accused the former mayors of "severe amnesia" and said the city has passed similar bond packages in the past.

In the minute-long ad, which started running Thursday, former Mayor Rick Mystrom says that he and former mayors Dan Sullivan, George Wuerch and Tom Fink oppose Proposition 2, the "ambulance bond."  

"The bond issue avoids the tax cap by lumping massive labor costs into a small bond proposal," Mystrom says.  

The ad criticizes $2.3 million in annual maintenance and operating costs included with the bond, which would pay for two new ambulances, as well as new buses and other public transit vehicles, bus stop upgrades, and signal and marking upgrades for school zones.

[Read a breakdown of costs associated with Proposition 2

The "deceptively small bond" amounts to an extra $24 million to the city's taxing capacity over the 10-year life of the bond, Mystrom says in the ad.


Myer Hutchinson, Berkowitz's spokesman, said the former mayors should have checked their own records before signing off on the ad.

"Operating costs for public safety equipment has been associated with bond proposals eight times since 1999, including under the administrations of George Wuerch, Rick Mystrom and Dan Sullivan," Hutchinson said. "In the past, they didn't seem to have a problem when making the pitch to voters about these proposals."

That included a bond to build a fire station under the Mystrom administration, with $1.2 million in annual operating costs, Hutchinson said. In 2010, during the Sullivan administration, the city used bond money for public safety upgrades, including one new ambulance. The bond came with overall annual operating and maintenance costs of $800,000.

Hutchinson said the bond in Proposition 2 is necessary to keep ambulances and other equipment operational.

"Our population is aging and we are having a significant increase in medical responses," Hutchinson said.

Mystrom said in an interview that he found the annual operating costs attached to Proposition 2 to be "extraordinarily high."

He said the cost of building the new fire station under his tenure was much higher than the operating costs. In the case of Proposition 2, the labor exceeds the cost of the new ambulances, he said.

Bob Griffin, who is listed as one of the top sponsors of the ad along with Dan Coffey and Hugh Ashlock, said he also opposed the 2010 ambulance bond, for the same reasons he's objecting to Proposition 2.

The city should find a way to pay for new ambulances in its operating budget, which does not add to the size of the tax cap, said Griffin, a member of the Budget Advisory Commission.

It's the second election in a row where Berkowitz has been pitted against more conservative predecessors over money and taxes. Sparring occurred in last year's election over Proposition 8, a measure that sought to restrict the growth of the city's tax cap. Voters ultimately approved the measure.

Griffin said the new "No on 2" ad cost about $14,000 to produce, and will run through Tuesday.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.