Anchorage Assembly Considers Municipal Budget, Approves Homelessness Plan
Over the past month many important issues have demanded the attention of our community, and demonstrated the political division between the left and right that has become a defining feature of politics in Anchorage as of late. Disagreement and contention over the emergency mask mandate, which passed on October 12th after a two-week long filibuster attempt by Save Anchorage and others on the far-right, became an impediment to the usual business of the Assembly at the most recent regular Assembly meeting. Originally scheduled for October 27th, the assembly was slated to discuss the homelessness plan and budget proposal at this meeting, but due to non-compliance to the mask mandate within the chambers from audience members, the regular Assembly meeting was rescheduled first to October 28th, where much of the testimony on the Bronson administration’s budget proposal took place, and then to November 1st, where the assembly was finally able to address the homelessness plan, among other unresolved issues dating back to September.
The municipal budget, which will take effect on January 1, after review and revision from the assembly with input from the public, and the homelessness plan – a long-term strategy developed in a negotiation process between representatives from the assembly and Bronson administration to address – are two of the most critical issues facing the city at this time. 2022 Municipal Budget The 2022 Proposed General Operating Budget, which was put together by the Bronson administration, contained $7.4 million worth of cuts and eliminated 53 municipal government positions. Funding was cut by $1 million to the Anchorage School District’s Early Childhood Education programs, and additional cuts were made to community grants for organizations such as Covenant House and other nonprofits, with $250,000 in total being cut to organizations which serve victims of violence and sexual assault. Additional budget cuts were made to APD and the fire department, the Mobile Crisis team, mental health first responders, and the Parks & Recreation department. The budget proposal also moved the Anchorage Public Library under control of the Parks & Recreation department and cut funding for all new park projects in East Anchorage scheduled to begin in 2022.
Despite these proposed cuts to many local services, the Bronson administration’s budget would still dedicate 23.2% of the municipality’s total budget to APD, which would remain the most heavily funded department of the municipality, followed by the Fire department at 18.1% and Public Works at 11.1%, while Parks & Recreation and Public Transportation (a service that is severely lacking in the municipality) would receive 5.2% and 4.7% respectively. The majority of public testimony on the administration’s budget proposal was critical of the cuts, with community members testifying to the importance of parks for bringing communities together, as well as the benefits of a well-funded Pre-K program in the Anchorage School District to provide children with a head start to their education, while others stressed the importance of investing in the community to turn Anchorage into a thriving, modern city. The Assembly resumed reviewing the administration’s proposed budget during the public hearing at the regular assembly meeting on November 9th. Generally, the municipality will pass the budget the last week of November, and it will take effect on January 1.
Homelessness Plan Since August 4, a facilitation group, composed of three members of the Bronson administration and three assembly members, has been negotiating a homelessness plan that was passed by the assembly in a unanimous vote on November 1. Assembly members added two amendments to resolution AR 2021-350 before it passed. One links the mass exit strategy to the COVID-19 pandemic, presumably to ensure the municipality is able to receive FEMA funding to facilitate the process of moving people out of the Sullivan Arena, and the other removes language which specified five potential locations for a mass care site, as the municipality has yet to finalize any location for use as a shelter for the homeless.
The plan is referred to as a “client and community centered approach” in the resolution, and it is intended to transition away from mass shelters and provide a more permanent housing solution to Anchorage’s homeless population. The homelessness plan aims to accomplish this transition from mass shelters to permanent housing by using a scattered site model that provides a “continuum of care from navigation to housing” and offers individuals experiencing homelessness five different types of shelter depending on the specific needs of that individual. These five types of shelter include a shelter and navigation center for adults, a “special population facility” with a navigation center, a medical convalescence facility, substance misuse treatment with housing, and workforce and permanent supportive housing units. The resolution is also consistent with Anchored Home, the three-year plan developed in 2018 through public input from the community to provide a solution to the homelessness crisis, and it emphasizes a public-private partnership in developing a plan for capital and operation costs. The facilitation group responsible for drafting the homelessness plan will remain active in overseeing the execution of this plan, although it will do so without two of the original members representing the Bronson administration. Dr. John Morris, the former homelessness coordinator and Craig Campbell, director of policy and programs have both resigned. Larry Baker is the only remaining original member of Bronson’s negotiation team and he will represent the administration along with Joe Gerace, the current Health Department director, who has taken one of the spots left vacant by Morris and Campbell. The Assembly’s negotiation team will remain the same, composed of Meg Zaletel, Christopher Constant, and John Weddleton. To effectively put this plan into place, the municipality is now tasked with settling on locations for services and shelters from the over 70 sites around the city that have been reviewed by the facilitation group, and this task continues to be of the utmost importance as temperatures drop and snow begins to accumulate, while the city’s growing homeless population searches for stable long-term housing and shelter.
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