Over the next month, an unlikely coalition will work to find about $3 million in city funds to pay for new equipment for Anchorage police officers, including body cameras.
The group — including Anchorage Assembly members Jamie Allard and Crystal Kennedy and Alaska Black Caucus President Celeste Hodge Growden — is seeking an alternative to asking voters to approve a special tax levy to pay for the equipment.
Allard and Kennedy represent Eagle River-Chugiak, and are generally viewed as the most conservative members on the Assembly.
Hodge Growden “may have different motivations than Crystal and I, but the endgame is the same,” Allard said Thursday.
On Tuesday, the Anchorage Assembly was supposed to vote on whether to put that question on the April ballot. An ordinance submitted by Assembly members Forrest Dunbar, Meg Zaletel and John Weddleton, along with Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson, sought voter approval of a maximum of a $1.84 million annual tax increase to fund leasing new equipment. That would amount to $5.32 per $100,000 of assessed taxable property value.
During a public hearing on the matter, five people testified, most saying they supported funding body cameras for police, but didn’t want a new tax. Hodge Growden was the first to testify and objected to asking voters to increase taxes for body cameras.
In an interview Thursday, Hodge Growden said asking voters to increase taxes during a pandemic hurts the proposal’s chances, and shows that body cameras are not a high priority for the city.
“How can you not see that this is not the right way to go in this climate?” she said.
Kennedy made a motion to postpone action on the ordinance to Jan. 26. It buys time for the group to find alternative funding, and also still allows the Assembly to put the tax levy on the ballot if they can’t agree on another funding source.
Hodge Growden has a long history of working with the sponsors of the ordinance that was postponed, and prior to this week had no relationship with Kennedy and Allard. But they’re in agreement on this issue.
After the meeting, instead of reaching out to the members she’s more familiar with, she emailed Allard and Kennedy. They quickly responded, and on Wednesday put out a statement saying the three would work together to find funding.
“It doesn’t matter what side people are on. It’s about coming together,” Hodge Growden said.
Allard said they are looking to fund the new equipment, which includes in-car cameras and data storage, through federal grants and minor budget cuts. For her, the bottom line is avoiding a tax increase.
“We are going to pull from different avenues so it doesn’t hurt one particular area,” Allard said.
Zaletel said she understands there is some risk to putting the funding source on the ballot. But she said she thinks voters would support the increase.
Zaletel said her concern is that making room in the 2021 budget doesn’t guarantee the the funding will be sustained year-to-year. She also said even minor cuts can have consequences.
“I think everyone’s trying to get to the same place. I just think there are different methods on how to get there,” Zaletel said.
Hodge Growden said she’s sure she will not agree with everything the Eagle River-Chugiak members want to do in the future, but on this issue they are aligned.
“The way that this country and Anchorage, how we’re suffering right now, we’ve got to take the politics out of it and get down to the business of really helping our communities,” Hodge Growden said.