Anchorage Assembly members got an unwanted surprise last week as they were meeting to iron out details for this year’s municipal bond packages, which will go before voters in April’s municipal elections.
As members finalized projects to include in bond proposals during a work session on Friday, they discovered that a technical error by members of Mayor Dave Bronson’s administration had frozen the parks and recreation package at an abnormally low cap of $2.3 million. In a normal year, the city’s parks and recreation bond is closer to $4 million, money that is typically leveraged to bring in more funding from government and private entities for trail improvements, park facilities, and other quality-of-life programs lobbied for by residents, advocates and community groups.
Members were discussing ideas for attaching $300,000 in renovation work to Mulcahy Stadium to another bond package, since the apparent clerical mistake would prevent them from fitting it into the skinnier-than-usual parks and rec proposal. But an aide interjected to deliver some more bad news.
“I just want to point out that there is no facilities bond for (2023),” said Assembly Budget Analyst Desirea Camacho.
Members sighed, exasperated.
The facilities bond is normally the vehicle by which the municipality borrows a few million dollars for routine work on its buildings to keep them in good working order. Last year voters approved $2.4 million for things like replacing fire alarms and upgrades at the fleet maintenance shop. The year before, a majority of voters supported a $6.9 million package that paid for a pool filtration system, public restrooms and code improvements. Typically the city pays off about the same amount of old debt as the new debt it is bonding for, so the effect for property-taxpayers is close to neutral, or else an increase on the order of dollars or cents.
“I am just sitting here flabbergasted and amazed,” member Felix Rivera said at the work session, addressing members of the administration. “I mean, we have not had this issue to such a degree in the past, not that I am aware of. It seems like something has happened in the last couple of months that have gummed the gears to such a significant degree that we can’t get anything done. … This is unacceptable.”
A message sent to the mayor’s office Thursday with questions and request for comment was not immediately returned.
In lieu of a facilities bond, the administration opted to use funds from the state’s Supplemental Emergency Medical Transport Program to pay $2.35 million for “major municipal facility roof replacements” under the Maintenance and Operations Department.
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Assembly members are not satisfied with that as as substitute.
“We’ve got facilities all over town that need to be maintained,” Pete Petersen, who represents East Anchorage, said at the work session. “If you don’t have a facilities bond you’re kinda behind the eight-ball. And once you’re behind, it’s really hard to get caught up.”
Members were more frustrated by the handling of the parks and recreation bond. The reasons it was capped so low, and in a way that prevented members from adding in additional projects, are technical, involving legal consultations, public notice requirements, and input from a nine-member commission made up of mayoral appointees who meet once a month at the Spenard Rec Center — coincidentally, one of the would-be bond recipients that was left out administration’s package.
Essentially, when the administration initially proposed its bond package, it somewhat arbitrarily specified its $2.3 million total in the title of documents it filed. The administration neglected to bring the proposal before the Parks and Recreation commission, and by the time it presented it to the Assembly this month, it had crossed over the threshold for public notice requirements that are mandated under city code for an item to appear on the ballot. Because the dollar figure was in the title, it was set in stone, according to the lawyers who vet the city’s bond proposals.
“Once we have a timeframe where we have to have a final ordinance no later than 70 days before the election, we can’t go backwards,” said Cynthia Weed, an attorney who works as the municipality’s legal counsel on bonds. Weed told the Assembly that in earlier discussions she had encouraged the administration to either select a higher dollar figure for the parks and recreation package or omit a number all together.
“I wasn’t aware of the requirement to go to the Parks and Rec Commission,” said Kent…
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