OPINION: Running a city that works starts with the budget

It feels like Groundhog Day, doesn’t it? For the second year in a row, Mayor Dave Bronson failed to clear our roads and keep Anchorage — a winter city — moving in the winter.

While the drama and excitement of national politics often dominate our attention, these recent heavy snowstorms are proof that local government matters. The municipal budget, and how that budget is implemented through core public services, determines the cleanliness of our streets and parks, the hours our libraries are open, the number and readiness of first responders available in our times of need, and the effectiveness of snow removal from city streets. On all fronts, our community deserves better. We are working to do our part.

This coming week, the Anchorage Assembly is scheduled to vote on and set the Municipality’s 2024 budget. The final public hearing at this stage of the 2024 budget will close at the Regular Assembly Meeting on Nov. 21. In the spring, we’ll come back to refine the budget, which is when your property taxes are calculated and the city’s budget is firm. As we invite you to testify on the budget, let’s recap the process and our priorities:

Late this summer, the Anchorage Assembly approved priorities for the 2024 budget that we had hoped would be reflected in the mayor’s budget proposal, including:

• Adequately funding core public services, including winter maintenance of roads, sidewalks and transit stops;

• Maintaining investments in public safety and first responders;

• Support for competitive recruitment and retention of skilled employees;


• Investing in strategies to increase local housing stock.

However, when Bronson released his draft budget at the beginning of October, he ignored these priorities and provided a fantasy budget that relies on maintaining the catastrophic vacancy rates, as much as 30% in some departments like the Anchorage Police Department and Anchorage Health Department, that are crippling our core public services. Moreover, this opportunistic grab for short-term savings by defunding vacant positions would force the Municipality to operate at a substandard level of government and find $12 million in cuts the following year.

To be clear, he is not cutting government bloat; department directors told us they intend to fill those vacancies, and in some cases already are. It’s on the record; you can hear it for yourself if you’d like if you visit the Assembly’s YouTube page.

Bronson claimed to add “an additional” $1.5 million to the city’s snow removal budget, saying, “With my proposed budget, Anchorage residents will get the timely snow removal response they deserve.” But the “addition” was yet another opportunistic trick: Building the budget starts with removing one-time expenditures from the previous year. Last year, the Assembly added $1 million to the budget for 2023 and asked the Bronson administration to reopen contract negotiations with municipal plow operators to increase their pay — which never happened. After removing those funds and replenishing them himself, Bronson’s real policy choice was to add $500,000, which was inflated threefold to win political points.

Today, the municipality struggles to provide core public services. Most days, it feels like the remaining municipal staff are holding our city together by a thread and a prayer. Meanwhile, Bronson continues to contract out millions in professional services for everything, from accounting and attorneys to snow removal, just to do the jobs we rely on municipal employees to do. Follow the money, and you’ll see we’re paying more for less.

We’d like to see our roads plowed, our positions staffed, and our customers (you, the public) happy with public services provided at good value for your money, so we are committing to another path.

At a work session last week, Assembly members shared the amendments and proposed projects they hope to see funded for next year. Together as co-chairs, we’re proposing a reversal of Bronson’s budget cuts to vacant positions. We have also brought an amendment to increase wages for heavy equipment operators and street maintenance staff for mission-critical pay in the winter seasons.

Our city is a reflection of our values, and we value transparency. You can visit the Assembly’s budget webpage to watch our meetings, hear our conversations with municipal staff, review our proposals and share your feedback. You can submit written testimony or come to the Assembly Chambers at the Loussac Library on Tuesday, Nov. 21, when we take up the budget starting around 7 p.m. We look forward to hearing from you.

Anna Brawley is an Assembly member representing District 3 (West Anchorage) and serves as co-chair of the Assembly’s Budget and Finance Committee.

Meg Zaletel is an Assembly member representing District 4 (Midtown) and serves as co-chair of the Assembly’s Budget and Finance Committee.

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