Sullivan touches on economy, homelessness

Mayor visits C-ER Chamber of Commerce


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Anchorage mayor Dan Sullivan addresses the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 21 at the Bear Mountain Grill in Eagle River.

STAR PHOTO BY MIKE NESPER

It should come as no surprise that Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan first addressed the economy in his update to the Chugiak-Eagle River Chamber of Commerce on Sept. 21.

“You’ve got to have a stable fiscal regime,” Sullivan said.

In his two-plus years in office, Sullivan said he’s been able to restore the city’s operating reserves — which had dipped below mandatory levels — and that his administration has created additional operating reserves.

In 2009, Sullivan said his budget saved $13.5 million. Last year, $12 million was banked, which was used to pay off a loan from the mid-2000s, he said.

The city has saved enough to fund a new police academy for 30 recruits, Sullivan said. The academy, which had about 1,000 applicants, is slated to start next month.

While having enough funding in operational reserves is required by law, it’s also essential for bond ratings, Sullivan said. Anchorage has been upgraded to a bond rating of AA+, one step below the top rating of AAA.

“Getting upgraded to a AA+ in this economy is huge,” Sullivan said.

Standard & Poor’s downgraded the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+ last month for the first time.

Sullivan said he’s not being overly conservative.

“It’s absolutely essential in this environment to run government this way,” he said.

Eighteen million dollars of the current $443 million budget accounts for labor and benefit increases, Sullivan said. The increase came without adding a single new employee, he said.

“The force you have now, now costs you, in one year, $18 million more,” Sullivan said.

The trend is likely to continue over the next few years, he said.

The city’s economic outlook is positive, Sullivan said, but “challenges still remain.”

Public safety has improved, Sullivan said. Murders, rapes, burglaries, robberies and motor vehicle thefts are all on the decline, he said. Larceny and aggravated assault have increased, Sullivan said.

“The crime rate is down in Anchorage in all the major categories except two,” he said. “But the overall crime rate is declining.”

The latter is especially good news considering the economic climate, Sullivan said.

“Oftentimes during tough economic times, you see crime rates go up,” he said.

Sullivan said he can’t take sole credit for the drop in criminal activity as the entire nation has seen crime decreasing. Whatever the reason, Sullivan said he’s glad to see the peaceful trend.

Overall traffic accidents, too, are down, Sullivan said. Collisions with bicycles are up, however, which he attributed that to the increase in Anchorage cyclists.

Sullivan also addressed homelessness. The mayor said he wants to make the city safe but also connect the homeless with social service providers.

“We’re really developing a no-tolerance policy about it,” he said. “But again, a humane policy at the same time.”

Just shutting down homeless camps won’t solve the problem, Sullivan said.

“You can’t just move people from one camp to another,” he said. “If you squeeze one area, they move somewhere else. The goal really is to get them into some sort of service provider system.”

Sullivan urged the public not to give any money to panhandlers. Instead, people should donate to social service agencies that can help the homeless, he said.

Luring a person into the street with an offer of money is illegal, and 99 cents of every dollar given goes toward the purchase of alcohol, Sullivan said.

To combat chronic homeless alcoholics, last year the city opened Karluk Manor, which provides Anchorage’s most serious inebriates shelter — and a place to drink. Other Housing First projects like Karluk have had some success, but Sullivan said he’s not completely sold on the idea.

“I have mixed emotions about it to tell you the truth,” he said. “I think it’s enabling in one way, but at the same time … if you saw somebody dead in an alley behind your house, you’d probably wish they were somewhere else.

“At least they’re not dying in our public spaces,” Sullivan said.

Through grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and other agencies, Sullivan said he’s seeking to increase the inventory of low-income housing.

“They say the real cure for homelessness is housing,” he said.

The mayor also touched on his plan for education. The city will hold an education summit Nov. 15-16 with the goal of making the Anchorage School District among the top in the country, Sullivan said. Invited will be some of the best education leaders in the U.S., he said.

“I want to be the best school district in the nation,” Sullivan said. “It’s time to start benchmarking ourselves against not the rest of the Lower 48, but the world.”

Education ranks as one of Sullivan’s highest priorities, he said.

The quality of life in Anchorage is the best it’s ever been, Sullivan said in closing.

“I think Anchorage is looking up,” he said. “We’re cleaner, we’re safer, we’re stronger.”

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com

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