For as long as I can remember, the Anchorage Police Department has come in contact with people facing a mental health crisis who have a substance abuse or alcohol abuse issue, or both. We try our best to connect people to the services they need. But often, those services aren’t available or police contact is not beneficial for the individual. It is frustrating for officers who are out there trying to help community members to not be able to make the right connections.
The proposed 5 percent alcohol retail tax on the April ballot is the first step toward solving some of these problems in Anchorage. The funds generated from the tax, about $11-$14 million per year, will be dedicated to “alcohol and substance misuse prevention and treatment, community behavioral health programs, public safety, and homelessness prevention and response, including the abatement of prohibited campsites.”
The Anchorage Police Department Employees Association is supporting the tax because it will open doors for people needing help in our community and will help keep our city safer. A crisis intervention center available for those with a mental health disorder or substance abuse issue means there will be the services available to those who need it, when they need it. The expansion of the mobile intervention team will help find people in need and provide them services while keeping them out of expensive emergency rooms. Helping fund housing for those experiencing homelessness while also expanding the homeless camp cleanup program means our greenbelts will be clean while we also provide housing to lessen the number of people camping illegally.
All of this means your police officers will have more time to handle emergency calls for service and keep our community safe.
Some have been questioning why responsible consumers should be taxed for services they most likely will not use. The answer is, you are already paying for these social woes. Paying for police and fire service, emergency room costs and emergency housing is expensive, and it doesn’t do much for keeping individuals or the whole community safe. It’s a Band-Aid for the overall problems. The alcohol tax revenue is dedicated to public safety and cannot be used to fund general government services such as the general fund or the mayor’s office budget.
To ensure funds are being used properly, the municipal administration is required to present the budget to the Assembly, where it will undergo multiple public work sessions and public hearings. At any time, an Assembly member can request a public report to assess how the funds are being used or how much has been raised.
With uncertainty and instability in Juneau, now is the time for Anchorage residents to come together and fight for our community. As the president of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association I am proud to join other community groups such as Anchorage Firefighters IAFF Local 1264 and Recover Alaska by voting yes on Proposition 9. Ballots should have arrived in your mailbox and need to be postmarked or put in a ballot drop box by April 2.
Anchorage Police Department Sgt. Jeremy Conkling is the President of the Anchorage Police Department Employees Association.
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