More money for police, fire department in 2020 Anchorage budget proposal

Anchorage City Hall

The 2020 budget proposal from Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s administration includes more money for the fire department, 911 dispatchers and police officers on the city’s trail system. It also relies on an increase to property taxes.

The proposed budget was presented to the Anchorage Assembly on Friday.

“This is about public safety and it’s about having a balanced approach to budgeting,” Berkowitz said in an interview. “The fact that we’re AAA bond rated, the fact that it’s a balanced budget, that says a lot about the direction I think we’re supposed to be going in.”

The proposed budget totals $539.2 million, about 2.4% higher than the current 2019 budget.

If the Anchorage Assembly makes no changes to the proposal, the owner of a $350,000 house would see about a $20 increase in property taxes. The tax rate will be set in April.

The city’s budget year starts Jan. 1.

The budget proposal continues to focus on public safety, homelessness and stabilizing city operations, Anchorage budget director Lance Wilber told Assembly members at a meeting Friday.

Some examples of where the Berkowitz administration is proposing to spend money next year:

• $1.55 million for police and fire academies to keep up with attrition.

• $540,000 for four new officers to patrol city trails and $600,000 for six new employees in the police department’s evidence, records and dispatch departments.

• $53,000 to cover half a year’s cost for a new homeless and behavioral health systems coordinator and $110,000 for a new job to support the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program.

• $800,000 to review property tax exemptions, including money for one supervisor, two clerk positions and to maintain software, and $165,000 for payroll auditors.

• $350,000 to continue to fund 14 seasonal positions to clean up illegal encampments and $550,000 to continue the city’s Mobile Intervention Team that connects homeless people with services.

• In response to state funding cuts, the city has proposed sending $185,000 to the city’s Public Transportation Department to make up for the loss of money from the Alaska Mental Health Trust, Wilber said.

The budget proposal doesn’t account for Gov. Mike Dunleavy cutting half, or nearly $49 million, of the state money used to pay down debt for older school bonds. That’s a $20.5 million cut for the Anchorage School District. The city is working with the school district, Wilber said.

The budget does assume Anchorage’s city-owned electric utility, Municipal Light & Power, will be sold in 2020. Part of that money will go into a city trust fund, and it’s projected to result in an additional $2.9 million to pay for government services next year.

The city is also proposing a $57.67 million bond package for next year. The bond proposal includes money for ambulances, police vehicles, elevator upgrades at the Loussac Library and upgrades to senior centers in Anchorage and Chugiak. There’s also $2.2 million for projects in Girdwood.

The 2020 proposed budget now goes to the Anchorage Assembly, which can vote to make changes to the proposal before approving it. The Assembly has a four-hour work session on the budget scheduled for Oct. 18 and two public hearings, on Oct. 22 and Nov. 5. It’s scheduled to approve the budget on Nov. 19.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.