Anchorage Mayor Bronson vetoes some Assembly changes to city budget

Dec. 1—Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson

Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson has vetoed a handful of changes the Assembly made last week to the 2023 city budget and alcohol tax spending plan.

Assembly members had approved multiple changes and added about $3.6 million to Bronson's $583.6 million spending plan.

The mayor's office issued the vetoes Tuesday evening. In the next three weeks, Assembly members could override some or all of the vetoes with a supermajority vote.

Bronson's vetoes include:

—Striking $445,000 from the city's alcohol tax spending plan, which the Assembly earmarked as annual grant funding for Catholic Social Services' Brother Francis Shelter downtown.

—Moving another $730,000 that members allocated as a grant for Brother Francis Shelter back to the Health Department's nonlabor budget for homelessness.

—Reducing the Assembly's funding for a security contract from $65,000 to $20,928 and moving the remaining $44,072 back into the Maintenance and Operations Department budget.

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—Nixing $150,000 that members had set aside for the Assembly legislative budget to provide technical assistance to organizations for the alcohol tax grant application process.

The Assembly had set aside the more than $1.2 million for Brother Francis Shelter so it could permanently increase the number of beds available for homeless adults — money the nonprofit says it needs to keep its current capacity of 120 clients for the next year.

"While I support the efforts of the Brother Francis Shelter and the work they provide to compassionately address those individuals experiencing homelessness, Brother Francis Shelter will not be able to comply with the terms as stated in this amendment. The organization has expressly stated that they are committed to sticking to their 120-client capacity for the foreseeable future," Bronson said in the veto document.

Molly Cornish, a spokeswoman for Catholic Social Services said the mayor's statement is incorrect, in part. The shelter is sticking to the 120-bed capacity, but that grant funding is what will allow the shelter to do so.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic and necessary health precautions caused the shelter to drop from its previous capacity of about 250 people a night to just 72. At the same time, the city opened Sullivan Arena as an emergency mass shelter.

Bronson's administration closed Sullivan this summer and directed homeless residents to Centennial Park Campground in East Anchorage. Hundreds of homeless residents were living unsheltered there and elsewhere in the city.

That's when Brother Francis added 48 beds, in response to the sudden increase of unsheltered homelessness and a request from the mayor, Cornish said.

"We took a really hard look at our guest count and we looked at the capacity of our shelter because we wanted to make sure we still had a low impact on the neighborhood, wanted to make sure we still have strong outcomes for guests, but also recognizing that there's a crisis at hand and we're short on shelter beds," Cornish said.

In another veto, Bronson also asserted that the Assembly overstepped the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of city government by moving funding for grant application assistance from the Health Department to the Assembly's legislative budget.

The Assembly's amendment "seeks to upend this constitutionally mandated division between legislative and executive powers" by moving the money from the Health Department "so that the legislative branch may usurp the Health Department's implementation and administration role," he said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.