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5/5/15 - Anchorage city budget puts fiscal prudence over added public safety positions

May 4, 2015

The Anchorage assembly has passed the city budget, after a mayor's veto and a last-minute deal over money for a utility the administration has proposed privatizing.

The final budget is $484 million. Solid Waste Services were cut by $2 million instead of the $4 four million proposed by Mayor Dan Sullivan. In exchange, funding for new public safety staff positions was dropped after the mayor vetoed it. The positions that would have been added included more dog-catchers, a homelessness coordinator, and a senior planner to handle new zoning issues related to growing marijuana within the municipality.

The budget battle highlights a tension that's been a recurrent theme in Anchorage city politics during the Sullivan administration:  public safety spending versus fiscal prudence. Assembly member Elvi Gray-Jackson believes the Administration's emphasis on reducing the cost of government has become excessive amid Anchorage's recent growth.

"But you can't expect the same amount of services for the same cost with a population that is no longer 200,000 but more than 300,000--it's doesn't cost the same," said Gray-Jackson.

But the Administration maintains it's irresponsible to pay for new positions by asking more of tax-payers. Though this year's budget is up 1.4% over last year's, it's still nearly 2 million dollars below the tax-cap, something that Mayor Dan Sullivan believes is important amid a worsening financial outlook for the state.

"My vetoes reflected, A, we didn't want to see additional spending and adding of personnel at a time when we're pretty sure we're gonna see some reduction in revenue sharing an additional state funding,” said Sullivan.

The Assembly ultimately approved the final version of the revised budget.

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Alaska lawmakers vote to leave Juneau, for now.

The House and Senate each passed a resolution Monday to let legislators recess until May 12. The vote in each house followed caucus lines, with minority Democrats in opposition.

Proponents with the Republican-led House majority said the break would offer a cooling off period amid the budget impasse that led to the special session. Opponents said the break means leaving Juneau with an incomplete budget and a duty unfulfilled.

Renovations that are about to start would effectively put legislators out of the Capitol building. Proponents of the recess alluded to holding committee hearings on the road system during the recess to address the special session’s unresolved legislative business, which include Medicaid expansion, the budget and a bill to implement sexual abuse prevention education in schools.

Juneau Sen. Dennis Egan said the capital city will be ready for legislative business to resume May 12.

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Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott meets with Canadians on trans-boundary mining issues

Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott said British Columbia officials seem sincere about protecting transboundary rivers near provincial mines.

Mallott met Monday with top officials from B.C.’s mines and environment agencies.

He said the tone turned somber when they discussed the Mount Polley Mine, where a large dam collapsed last August, sending silt and mud into nearby waterways.

“They were very serious about learning from the incident,” said Mallott. “They have made at least a premier [head of a province] and perhaps a ministerial [head of Canada] commitment that that type of accident will never occur again.” 

Mallott visits the Mount Polley area this week as he meets with government officials, industry representatives and tribal leaders.

He said he talked with the mining and environment ministers about information collected in watersheds before mining starts that can be compared to later data to measure pollution. In B.C., that information is often gathered by mining companies.

“We talked a little bit about whether some of that data should be obtained by the respective governments themselves,” said Mallott.

Gov. Bill Walker earlier this year designated Mallott to lead an internal transboundary waters working group. It includes commissioners of the Departments of Environmental Conservation, Fish and Game, and Natural Resources.

A delegation of Southeast Alaska tribal and environmental activists are also in British Columbia for what’s called Mining Week.

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Alatna gets equipment to restore clean drinking water

A water filtration system has been installed in a tiny interior Alaska village where a fire damaged infrastructure last month. The temporary system is making potable water available in Alatna, a village of 27 about 190 miles northwest of Fairbanks. Gov. Bill Walker last week declared a disaster in Alatna after fire destroyed the village water treatment facility, washeteria and clinic.