It is getting so that we are afraid to leave town for a few days because of what we might find has happened while we were gone.
This time around, the U.S. Treasury gave Anchorage two ways it could purchase buildings the public has said emphatically it does not want for use as homeless shelters using federal CARES Act funds intended as aid for individuals, businesses and nonprofits devastated by COVID-19.
The public, mind you, spoke out over five days of testimony mostly against Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s use of the money to purchase the aging buildings.
CARES Act money, $12.5 million of it, anyway, would buy the former Alaska Club building on Tudor Road, the Bean’s Cafe campus and Americas Best Value Inn & Suites in Spenard. A fourth building, the Golden Lion hotel, would be bought with $10 million from the city’s $1 billion sale of the Municipal Light & Power utility to Chugach Electric.
Treasury’s inspector general, after complaints about the proposed purchases, nixed the idea of using the federal money to buy the three buildings, but said Treasury would make the ultimate decision.
Treasury met with city officials and thoughtfully offered two options: One would have the city spend its CARES Act funds on its first responder payroll, and then use general funds the city would have spent on payroll for projects such as the purchase of buildings.
The second option would be for the city to buy the properties with CARES Act funds and use them long-term — but with the proviso that services must be available in the building by Dec. 30, the deadline to spend CARES Act money.
There was not much talk about $300K in property taxes being wiped off the tax rolls or the $7 million a year in operational costs for the buildings. Taxpayers will get to eat that expense.
It is always nice to see different levels of government working diligently together to jam something down our throats we do not want, but we find ourselves wondering about a third possible option:
The city and the mayor actually listening to residents and not buying the buildings and trying to devise a homelessness plan the public can support – while at the same time getting CARES Act funding out to individuals, businesses and nonprofits devastated by COVID-19.
That is something we could support.