The Anchorage Assembly passed the city’s 2023 operating budget on Tuesday after making a series of changes, adding about $3.6 million to Mayor Dave Bronson’s $583.6 million spending plan.
Assembly members passed the $587 million city budget in a 9-3 vote. It will take effect on Jan. 1.
The Assembly also made multiple changes to Bronson’s spending plan for alcohol tax revenues, which are not constrained by the city’s property tax cap and come instead from a set tax rate on alcohol sales.
Members increased next year’s spending plan for that portion of money by about $2.5 million, from Bronson’s proposed $13.6 million to about $16.1 million. That money comes from previous tax revenue that hasn’t yet been spent, and unbudgeted funds from expected alcohol tax revenue.
Bronson could veto some or all of the Assembly’s changes to the budget. In order to override any forthcoming vetoes, members need a supermajority of 8 votes.
Eagle River/Chugiak Assembly members Jamie Allard and Kevin Cross and South Anchorage Assembly member Randy Sulte voted against the budget. They had voted against some of the changes and additions other members approved during the Assembly’s budget amendment process Tuesday evening.
The budget is about $1.2 million under the city’s estimated tax cap limit and about $23.6 million more than the city’s current spending plan.
Much of the spending increase is due to rising costs and other economic pressures. Bronson had proposed a spending plan that was largely a continuation of last year’s, providing around the same level of services to the municipality but costing about $20 million more.
“We’re seeing a rapid escalation in costs, not only of fuel but in contractual costs,” Municipal Manager Amy Demboski said.
The city uses contractors to help departments provide services like snow removal, and those year-over-year contract costs are increasing by large amounts, she said.
“What we’re dealing with is a new economic environment where things are costing more, we don’t have as much staff,” Demboski said.
Some of the changes Assembly members made on Tuesday directed more funds toward critical city services to help alleviate some of that pressure. Members earmarked the largest amount for snow removal, at $1.5 million.
The Assembly had initially planned for an addition of just $1 million for snow removal. But that increase would only allow the city’s Maintenance and Operations Department to continue the same level of service that residents saw last year, the department’s street maintenance manager, Paul VanLandingham, told Assembly members Tuesday night.
Members then voted to add a half-million on top of that with hopes of improving snow removal, including on sidewalks.
But even with the additional money, the Maintenance and Operations Department may not be able to improve its snow removal service.
“I can’t assure you there will be any improvements, because we are struggling with manpower issues right now. I don’t know how much more work we will be able to complete,” VanLandingham said.
Some Assembly members encouraged the department to use some of the money to bolster its staff, through bonuses or other incentives.
In collaboration with the administration, the Assembly also fully funded 24/7 operations for the fire department’s Mobile Crisis Team and the police department’s Mobile Intervention Team.
Bronson had initially proposed cutting funding from the fire department and moving its mental health clinician positions to instead run the police department’s team around the clock.
While both provide a type of mental health crisis response, their work is different and the city needs more of each, Assembly member Meg Zaletel said.
The police department’s co-responder program sends a mental health clinician with an officer to law enforcement calls where mental illness may be involved. The fire department’s team sends a clinician with an EMT to behavioral health calls.
Another funding increase, proposed by Allard, Cross and Sulte, added three full-time positions to the fire department — a dispatcher, fire inspector and fire investigator.
Assembly members added a handful of funding items for homelessness services. Those include annual grant funding for Catholic Social Services’ Brother Francis Shelter so it can permanently increase its number of beds for homeless residents. The nonprofit will also receive annual funding for operations of its Complex Care Facility, which shelters homeless residents with serious medical needs and other intensive care. The Assembly earmarked more funds for family shelter and homeless youth services.
Other budget changes include:
• A reversal to proposed salaries and benefit decreases in the Health Department.
• Additional funds to pay for security contracts for the city’s elections team and for the Assembly.
• Grant funding to organizations targeting substance misuse prevention, workforce development and suicide prevention.
• Retaining three positions in the Anchorage Public Library