Anchorage

Anchorage Mayor Bronson vetoes some Assembly changes to city budget

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has vetoed a handful of changes the Assembly made last week to the 2023 city budget and alcohol tax spending plan.

Assembly members had approved multiple changes and added about $3.6 million to Bronson’s $583.6 million spending plan.

The mayor’s office issued the vetoes Tuesday evening. In the next three weeks, Assembly members could override some or all of the vetoes with a supermajority vote. In

Bronson’s vetoes include:

• Striking $445,000 from the city’s alcohol tax spending plan, which the Assembly earmarked as annual grant funding for Catholic Social Services’ Brother Francis Shelter downtown.

• Moving another $730,000 that members allocated as a grant for Brother Francis Shelter back to the Health Department’s nonlabor budget for homelessness.

• Reducing the Assembly’s funding for a security contract from $65,000 to $20,928 and moving the remaining $44,072 back into the Maintenance and Operations Department budget.

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• Nixing $150,000 that members had set aside for the Assembly legislative budget to provide technical assistance to organizations for the alcohol tax grant application process.

In a statement on Wednesday, Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance said that the Assembly and administration had collaborated successfully and reached a consensus on most items in the 2023 city budget.

“However, we will likely schedule a time soon to deliberate on the budget vetoes, as several of them don’t seem to be in line with the municipality’s long-term goals,” LaFrance said.

She then referred specifically to the reversal of grant funding for the homeless shelter, saying “it is odd that a mayor who has staked his legacy on addressing the homeless issue would defund a revenue-neutral option to sustain the operations of one of the city’s key partners.”

The Assembly had set aside the funding for Brother Francis Shelter so it could permanently maintain its recent increase in the number of beds available for homeless adults — money the nonprofit says it needs to keep its current capacity of 120 clients for the next year.

“While I support the efforts of the Brother Francis Shelter and the work they provide to compassionately address those individuals experiencing homelessness, Brother Francis Shelter will not be able to comply with the terms as stated in this amendment. The organization has expressly stated that they are committed to sticking to their 120-client capacity for the foreseeable future,” Bronson said in the veto document.

Molly Cornish, a spokeswoman for Catholic Social Services said the mayor’s statement is incorrect, in part. The shelter is sticking to the 120-bed capacity, but that grant funding is what will allow the shelter to do so.

In a video statement on Wednesday afternoon, Bronson said he vetoed the funding because of a legal issue with the language of the Assembly’s amendment, asserting that the wording required the shelter to increase beyond 120 beds.

Bronson said he would direct the Anchorage Health Department to prepare a grant agreement to give Brother Francis the funding it needs, “while also complying with language that is legally sufficient.”

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic and necessary health precautions caused the shelter to drop from its previous capacity of about 250 people a night to just 72. At the same time, the city opened Sullivan Arena as an emergency mass shelter.

Bronson’s administration closed Sullivan this summer and directed homeless residents to Centennial Park Campground in East Anchorage. Hundreds of homeless residents were living unsheltered there and elsewhere in the city.

That’s when Brother Francis added 48 beds, in response to the sudden increase of unsheltered homelessness and a request from the mayor, Cornish said.

“We took a really hard look at our guest count and we looked at the capacity of our shelter because we wanted to make sure we still had a low impact on the neighborhood, wanted to make sure we still have strong outcomes for guests, but also recognizing that there’s a crisis at hand and we’re short on shelter beds,” Cornish said.

LaFrance said the grant money for the shelter in the alcohol tax budget already exists as a funding stream and “will not cost taxpayers any additional funds.” The alcohol tax works separately from other tax revenues, which are limited by the city’s property tax cap. It brings in additional money that comes from a set tax rate on alcohol sales, and goes to three spending areas — public safety; sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse prevention; and for efforts addressing homelessness, mental health and substance misuse.

The money in the Health Department’s budget also already existed, to be used for homelessness services like emergency shelter. The Assembly’s amendment specified that funding should go directly to Brother Francis, so it doesn’t drop back down to 72 beds in January, Assembly member Felix Rivera said.

In another veto, Bronson also asserted that the Assembly overstepped the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of city government by moving funding for grant application assistance from the Health Department to the Assembly’s legislative budget.

The Assembly’s amendment “seeks to upend this constitutionally mandated division between legislative and executive powers” by moving the money from the Health Department “so that the legislative branch may usurp the Health Department’s implementation and administration role,” he said.

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Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at egoodykoontz@adn.com.

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