Anchorage Assembly member Bill Evans said Tuesday the city shouldn't be looking to traffic tickets to fill a budget shortfall.
The administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has proposed revising fee structures and implementing inflation-based increases for several hundred traffic tickets and city fines and fees. At Tuesday's Assembly meeting, Evans introduced a substitute ordinance to keep the Anchorage Police Department fine and fee schedule unchanged.
"I think it's very dangerous, or at least ill-advised, to create the impression that law enforcement is a revenue source for the city," Evans said in a Tuesday interview. "The way the administration's proposal came about … was clearly driven by revenue concerns, and not enforcement."
City Manager Mike Abbott said in response that public safety, not revenue, is the main focus of the administration's proposal.
"We're using fees and fines as a way to try to change Anchorage driving behavior," Abbott said. If Assembly members don't think the measure would improve public safety, he said, they should "absolutely" not support it.
He added: "We would have moved forward on this even if it did not have a positive impact on revenue."
The city treasury department has calculated that changing the fee and fine structure would add about $1.1 million in revenue. The bulk of the revenue comes from increased police fines, including an average 32 percent increase in the cost of a speeding ticket, and generally modest adjustments for fines that include bicycle and pedestrian violations. Officials said the police fine schedule hasn't been substantially updated since 2001.
The Berkowitz administration submitted the fees and fines proposal separately from the city's budget proposal - Berkowitz is trying to bridge an estimated $11 million budget gap, in part a result of declining state funding, but also pay for more police officers and firefighters.
Evans' substitute ordinance would not affect proposed fee and fine increases for the city's health, development services and parks and recreation departments. Nor would it affect an ordinance to create a $500 traffic ticket to punish texting while driving in Anchorage, which Evans said he supported.
Evans said that if the Berkowitz administration wants to look at raising police fines and fees based on inflation, it should do so in the spring, separate from the budget.
"I don't think the administration intended to do anything improper, but I think you have to be very careful about the message you send about law enforcement and revenue," Evans said.
Abbott said the administration would have presented the proposal sooner if possible, because he said the changes will deter bad behavior.
"We're not doing it to raise money, but we expect it will raise money," Abbott said.
The administration's proposal for the fee and fine schedules, and Evans' substitute version, will both be up for a public hearing at the Nov. 10 Assembly meeting.