Bronson administration turns 1, gets the gift of accountability
A year into his tenure and Anchorage seems to be moving from one crisis to another under conservative Mayor Dave Bronson. The Anchorage Assembly is hoping to put some guardrails back up.
Good evening, Alaska.
In this edition: Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson rang in his first year in office with a dubious claim about property taxes, suggesting the city is bloated and needs to be cut. But look around from the city’s ongoing homelessness crisis—which took a cruel and inept turn at the one-year mark—to, well, just about everything else and you might be left wondering where all that money’s going. But, hey, as a belated present to recognize his first year in office, the Anchorage Assembly has approved a new process to remove the mayor for breaching the public trust (which would include things like perjury, falsifying records and directing municipal employees to break the law). Also, the reading list.
Current mood: 🥳
The Bronson administration turns 1
Like many property owners in Anchorage, in the last few weeks we received our property tax bill in the mail accompanied by a now-infamous letter from Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson—who just completed his first year in office—bemoaning the Anchorage Assembly for overriding about $5 million of his vetoes in this year’s budget. In a bit of misleading math, he claimed that the average homeowner would have seen their taxes fall by more than $560 if Assemblymembers had just fallen into line.
As already pointed out in the Anchorage Assembly’s response, the letter is misleading. The mayor neglected to factor in the rising property values in his savings—basically, property taxes rose throughout the city and, thus, the overall tax rate went down but Bronson applied the new lower tax rate to the pre-rise property values to get that $560 savings. Also, there’s the small matter of a huge influx of about $50 million in state school bond debt reimbursement money, which had a far larger impact on the budget than the $5 million in the restored vetoes.
But beyond the battle over twisted budget numbers and property taxes, Bronson’s core assertion here is that the Anchorage city government is bloated and has room for continued cuts. It’s a classic line from conservatives promising easy fixes for difficult problems, but it becomes particularly strained when you, well, look around the city and wonder if this is really what an apparently bloated city budget gets us.
Nearly every single day has produced one headline after another about the city’s Bronson administration’s handling of the closure of the homeless shelter at the Sullivan Arena and slapped-together plan of housing the city’s homeless population at Centennial Campground in East Anchorage. With little to no notice to the people affected, to the care providers, to the local communities, to other city officials and even the recreational campers who discovered their reservations were canceled when they arrived at the campground, the Bronson administration with its apparently bloated city budget has engineered a crisis of cruel ineptitude that he can’t even be bothered to take responsibility for or provide any help with.
“Centennial Campground is not being repurposed and is not part of the homelessness response,” he said during Tuesday’s Anchorage Assembly, neglecting to recognize that the municipal website’s “How You Can Help With Homelessness” link leads to a barebones website asking for people to donate oatmeal, spoons and paper towels to the campground as well as volunteer to make lunch or dinner.
Beyond telling folks to “Please drop off items for Centennial Campgrounds at the log cabin” there’s no other information on the page.
According to the reporting by the ADN, the needs of those at the campground have been met somewhat by a patchwork of volunteers exchanging cellphone numbers at the camp who’ve provided some meals and other services to help people get on their feet. All the goodwill, though, doesn’t solve underlying structural problems that come with warehousing people at a campground that’s a long walk from the closest place to buy food (which would be a gas station), pick up their mail or get their clothes washed. The site is also located by what Alaska Fish and Game biologist Dave Battle called a “bear factory,” according to another early report by the ADN.
“Just the nature of the change in the makeup of this campground — it’s really concerning,” Battle said. “I don’t have anything magical to say, I just really want to continue working with camp staff and brainstorming on how to minimize the attractiveness in this camp” to bears.
A week after giving that quote, Fish and Game killed four bears at the campground.
Now the response is to provide people at the campground with bear cans purchased at REI and providing them with one-time meals to discourage them from keeping food in their tents. Many of the “solutions” here are precisely the sort of thing that further destabilizes people experiencing homelessness.
The whole out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach may appease people who can’t be bothered to have to look at people experiencing homelessness, but this kind of treatment only ensures that vulnerable people on the fringes slip further into the fringes. For people who need stability and certainty, nothing has been stable or certain about the response of the city.
A city-wide mess
But look beyond the Centennial Campground and you’ll see other problems with how Anchorage—an apparently overfunded city—is being run.
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