Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has proposed a $583.6 million city operating budget for the coming year. That’s a $16.7 million increase over last year, and his proposal would largely continue the same level of city services and programs that currently exist.
Bronson’s approach this year is markedly different from last year’s, when he proposed $7.4 million in funding cuts. At the time, the Assembly reversed most of Bronson’s cuts through its budget amendment process, including preserving the Anchorage Fire Department’s relatively new Mobile Crisis Team. It runs 24/7 and sends a mental health clinician with a paramedic to respond to behavioral health calls.
That Mobile Crisis Team is again on the chopping block under Bronson’s budget proposal, but many Assembly members say the city should keep funding it. Bronson’s budget proposal would instead move funding for the Mobile Crisis Team to the police department in order to expand its Mobile Intervention Team and make that service 24/7.
The Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to vote on Bronson’s 2023 spending plan during a meeting later this month.
On Thursday, members discussed a series of possible amendments to Bronson’s budget, including a funding change that would preserve the Mobile Crisis Team. It is also considering adding three positions to the fire department, increasing by $500,000 the money for snow removal and $50,000 more in funding for the Anchorage Senior Center, among other amendments.
Like last year, Bronson’s budget cuts funding from the Fire Department’s Mobile Crisis Team and moves those resources and mental heath clinician positions to the police department’s Mobile Intervention Team. That team is a separate co-responder program which sends a mental health clinician with an officer to calls where mental illness may be involved. The administration wants that team running 24/7 instead, according to the budget proposal.
The fire department’s labor contract precludes the 24/7 mobile crisis service, said Corey Allen Young, spokesman for the mayor’s office.
Assembly members Austin Quinn-Davidson and Meg Zaletel have put forward a proposal that would keep both teams intact. Leftover alcohol tax funds from last year would fund 24/7 operations of the police department’s team for one year, and current alcohol tax funds would be used for continued funding for the fire department’s team.
“It doesn’t change what the administration proposed at all for (the Mobile Intervention Team). But what it does do is it preserves the 24/7 Mobile Crisis Team, so the two can work in tandem,” Zaletel said.
Quinn-Davidson said they came up with the amendment in collaboration with the city’s municipal attorney and Municipal Manager Amy Demboski, in order to “meet in the middle.”
“Because (the) administration recognizes the value of mental health care provided by the Mobile Intervention Team at APD and the Mobile Crisis Team at AFD, we have worked with the Department of Law, Labor Relations as well as Assembly Members Zaletel and Quinn-Davidson on a solution that would support both models, in a way that honors the labor contracts and brings a more robust mental health response within our community,” Young said in a statement.
Advocates of the Mobile Crisis Team say it reduces unnecessary hospital visits and arrests, connects people in crisis to resources, and relieves pressure on the Anchorage Police Department by reducing its call load.
Meanwhile, Assembly member Daniel Volland has proposed a separate amendment that would use those same leftover alcohol tax funds to address impacts in the neighborhoods surrounding Sullivan Arena, where the city is operating a 200-person emergency homeless shelter. The proposal would go toward security services, trash collection and disposal. Other members suggested different funding sources or using a currently existing service, such as the Anchorage Downtown Safety Patrol or one of the intervention teams.
Volland said the city in general should draft a plan for neighborhood support services when the city introduces homeless services into an area.
“That can include outreach, all kinds of different things, but in the immediate here and now, I would just like to help out with some of the public safety concerns around the Sullivan,” he said.
Assembly members Jamie Allard, Kevin Cross and Randy Sulte are advocating for a $495,799 increase to the fire department to fund another dispatcher, fire inspector and fire investigator. They proposed the money come out of the remaining general tax revenue.
Bronson’s proposal comes in at $4.8 million below the city’s tax cap, and is a continuation of core services, according to an overview of his plan.
“I instructed departments to deliver a continuation budget,” Bronson said in a September written statement. “Most of the budget increases were required due to contractual obligations, commodity cost increases due to market factors, or will directly translate into long term government efficiency and cost savings. While our residents face economic adversity, specifically with the upward pressure of inflation, I am committed to protecting the taxpayer through these financially uncertain times. While residents tighten their belts, so must their government.”
Last year, a contentious budget season followed Bronson’s proposed cuts. Assembly members sought to preserve city programs and made a volley of changes that Bronson then vetoed, and Assembly members later voted to override nearly all of his vetoes. After that, the administration didn’t follow the Assembly-approved city budget and instead largely followed its original proposal for months. Several Assembly members said the move was illegal and violated the separation of powers between the legislative Assembly and executive Mayor’s Office.
After that, the Assembly’s vice chair, Chris Constant, proposed changes to city law that implemented a process to remove a mayor from office for a “breach of the public trust.” Constant attributed the impetus for his proposal to the mayor’s refusal to follow the legal budget. The Assembly passed the measure after acrimonious debate, chaotic meetings and heated opposition from the mayor.