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Prospect of yawning Anchorage budget deficit forces hard choices for City Hall

Suzanna Caldwell
Loren Holmes photo

In a surprising move, Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan on Tuesday evening released not one but two proposed budgets for Fiscal Year 2013: one that cuts painfully deep into the city's public safety and parks and recreation budgets, not to mention myriad other city services like public transportation. The alternative budget proposal would slash government in Alaska's largest city, too, albeit much less severely.

Municipal officials have warned that without reductions to public services, Anchorage could be facing a budget shortfall of up to $30 million next year -- if government is maintained at the same levels funded in Fiscal Year 2012.

"Plan A" was characterized by the city's budget planners as making "significant" budget cuts. "Draconian" is another word that might describe the reduction of services.

Among the proposed cuts:

  • More than 187 city jobs, including 29 police officers and 11 other police positions that currently are unfilled.
  • Deep cuts -- possibly as much as 20 percent less than current funding -- for Anchorage Police Department equipment and supplies budgets.
  • Potential elimination of more than 50 part-time and 10 full-time employees that maintain Anchorage's massive trails system, many public parks, recreation centers, pools and more that's overseen by the Parks and Recreation Department.
  • Loussac Library hours of operation would be shaved from 64 hours per week to 46. 
  • People Mover bus service would be hit hard, with drastic cuts to Anchorage's public transportation program. Busses would no longer run on Sundays and routes would disappear.

The "Plan A" budget for FY2013 comes in at $448.6 million. That's $6 million less than this year.

Sullivan said in the budget overview that he recommends the alternative, what he called "Plan B," which would reportedly maintain present government funding levels for next year by moving $14 million originally destined for the Anchorage School District. That money won't disappear for the schools, though, thanks to new money coming to the district from the state.

Sullivan's "Plan B" budget came in at $460.6 million.

Public safety wake-up call

The Anchorage Assembly will now take up the two proposals amid questions surrounding police force funding. Fearing drastic cuts, two dozen Anchorage officers met with an Alaska State Troopers recruiter in September, hoping to move onto the state's public safety payroll. 

Anchorage's police department has also been under increased scrutiny lately. Officers shot and killed two men who brandished weapons in separate incidents. Some community groups protested police use of lethal force. Then in September, the city announced it settled 11 lawsuits for $5.5 million stemming from the actions of former Anchorage police officer and convicted rapist Anthony Rollins.

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna(at)alaskadispatch.com