By MAYOR DAVE BRONSON
As we round out 2022, I want to reflect on the progress we have made over the last year to make Anchorage a more vibrant city to live, work, and play in. Before touching on those accomplishments, allow me to recognize our incredible Municipal employees.
Without the dedication and determination of our roughly 3,100 employees, we would not be where we are today. From our brave first responders at the Fire Department and Anchorage Police Department who keep us safe, to the compassionate health care providers in the Health Department, and of course our talented snowplow drivers who dug us out of December’s historic snowfall, I say thank you. And thank you to every employee who works for the city and helps serve our community. I am privileged to lead such a dynamic, talented, and productive team.
To improve our city, we need effective and responsible policies advanced across five areas: public safety, homelessness, the Port, property taxes, and housing and development. Despite what you might see in the news or read on social media, great strides have been made in each of these planks.
Public safety is the most important function of government, and I am pleased to report that under my administration nearly all forms of reported crime are down. Thanks to our pro-law enforcement approach, APD has successfully conducted multiple academies, including the largest since 2017, that have brought on dozens of new officers. In each of my budgets I have proposed increases to public safety.
We will not be defunding the police under my watch. Let me give you some examples. Some of our patrol cars have over 200,000 miles on them. If an officer cannot respond to a call because his car breaks down, what good is that officer?
To this end, my administration advocated for and secured $2 million in federal funds to replace patrol cars. Women and children are safer now thanks to the creation of a special unit focused on preventing and prosecuting domestic violence and crimes against persons. Violence against the most vulnerable will not be tolerated in Anchorage.
We are also beefing up AFD by securing a $10 million grant to hire 18 new firefighters and, working closely with Alaska’s congressional delegation, we received $4 million to implement the Municipality’s Community Wildfire Protection Plan. AFD has held one academy in 2022 and will start another academy in 2023. To attract more candidates, AFD is providing emergency medical technician training to those who do not possess an EMT 1 certificate prior to being hired. These type of changes helps us attract and retain a talented workforce.
Confronting homelessness remains at the forefront of my administration. Historic progress has been achieved to get people off the street and provide them the services they need. We have brought on hundreds of new housing units and supported numerous public-private partnerships which are crucial to solving this community-wide issue.
I am calling on the Legislature to make changes to state law this session, which will help get problematic people off the street and the help they need. Homelessness remains a complex and controversial issue: We need housing, mental health treatment beds, law and order and we need compassion. Together we can find solutions that help the most vulnerable and clean up our streets and parks.
I have said it before and I will continue to say it, if the Port of Alaska fails in an earthquake, all our other challenges become minor. The port is Alaska’s lifeline – bringing food and supplies to 90% of Alaskans. We need roughly $1.2 billion in the bank by the 3rd quarter of 2025 to begin construction on the docks. This spring, I worked with my fellow mayors and legislators to secure the largest state appropriation ever in Alaska’s history: $200 million to rebuild and modernize the port. Between the state appropriation, nearly $75 million from the federal government, the potential $367 million award from the MARAD settlement and $165 million in MOA bonding capacity, we have amassed over $800 million for this project. This is historic.
I will be headed to Juneau again this session with a $100 million ask of the state. I will also be heading to Washington, D.C. to secure further federal funds. I will not relent until we have the money to construct a seismically resilient port that delivers food security for our State.
Property taxes continue to be the largest share of the Municipality’s revenue stream, and largest tax burden on Anchorage residents. My commitment to reduce property taxes by making government more efficient remains the same. Through hiring freezes, smart management, and innovative efficiencies, we are curtailing the growth of government while maintaining fast and efficient services to residents. My first budget delivered a $7.5 million reduction and lowered property taxes by over $500 for the average single-family homeowner. This year, with upward inflationary pressure, my administration thoughtfully delivered a budget nearly $5 million under the tax cap to protect property taxpayers.
We know Anchorage faces a housing crisis. The average home is now over 40 years old. New construction faces a 20-30% premium over a similar home in the Mat-Su Valley; and with higher interest rates, younger buyers are finding it harder to purchase a home. To confront these issues, my administration has undertaken significant rewrites of zoning and building codes to incentivize development and lower the cost of housing.
Additionally, we have supported efforts to spur construction of affordable housing options like mother- in-law apartments (ADUs) and expanded reinvestment areas. With a limited amount of private developable land available, I have instructed the Heritage Land Bank to make as much municipal land open for development as possible. Efforts like the Holtan Hills Development in Girdwood are the type of projects Anchorage needs to grow and expand. Additionally, my administration worked with our congressional delegation to secure over $7 million to expand wastewater access to developable land, removing one of the costliest barriers of development.
We must breathe new life into downtown. The heart of every great city is a great downtown. Developments that my administration has championed, including the Block 41/4th Avenue Theater development, 6th Avenue hotel conversion, and Debenham’s 8th & K apartment complex are going to transform downtown as we know it. With over $300 million worth of investments announced thus far, we are well on our way to having a roaring 2020s downtown.
I am confident our best days are ahead. We live in the most beautiful city in the country. We have access to the best parks, trails, and outdoor recreation in North America. Anchorage is strategically located and will continue to benefit from the presence of the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. As geopolitical disruptions continue, it is my goal that national and international investments are driven to safe havens like Alaska, where the rule of law is respected.
There is no limit to our potential. We must work together and unite under a common goal of making Anchorage a better place for the next generation.
God speed, and Happy New Year, Anchorage.
Dave Bronson is the mayor of Anchorage.