Since I took office last year on July 1, significant progress and progress has been made against the priorities established at the start of my administration. When it comes to public safety, economic development, Port of Alaska, homelessness, property taxes, budget, COVID-19, and accountability to the people of Anchorage, we’re getting back on track and Let’s rebuild our great city! Today, I believe we are a more united, stronger and healthier people working together to grow our economy and make Anchorage an incredible city in which to live, work and play.
I admit that over the past year I have made a lot of mistakes. Coming from the military and airline world, I was not a polished politician when I took on this role and faced a steep learning curve as mayor. However, I believe my administration overcame these initial growing pains and learned valuable lessons along the way.
As my team can attest, I crave honesty, sincerity and integrity in everything we do. It is our job as public servants to pull directly with you and correct our course of action when you deem it necessary. If we make a mistake, we admit it, apologize, and strive to do better. This process is the only way to improve ourselves as a society and as a government working on your behalf.
In terms of our successes over the past year, I’d like to start with the government’s highest priority: public safety and the maintenance of law and order.
The Anchorage Police Department has held two strong academies, including the largest since 2017, which brought 23 new officers to the force. The APD secured its first homicide charge and through the reorganization of drug enforcement units, officers significantly increased the seizure of illegal drugs, firearms and cash.
I have prioritized the protection of women and children in our community by organizing a special action against domestic violence unity within our law department. This 11-person unit has five prosecutors and two APD officers assigned to it, who are tasked with prosecuting and preventing domestic violence in Anchorage, particularly crimes involving spousal abuse, as well as abuse and neglect. towards children.
Additionally, the Anchorage Fire Department hosted an academy that saw 26 new firefighters join the department, with all recruits graduating from the academy – a first since 2004. AFD secured $14 million in state reimbursements for medical transportation, which translates into savings for Anchorage taxpayers, and helped Anchorage be one of eight communities nationwide to receive the Lighthouse Community designation. Being a beacon community means our emergency response professionals are stars when it comes to saving lives.
More importantly, through a robust police force and active policing strategies, crime is down almost at all levels – especially violent crimes. We’re making Anchorage a safer community for everyone.
When it comes to the economy, Anchorage is roaring after languishing under misguided policies and COVID-19 shutdowns. In a short time, we’ve worked with developers to complete nearly $300 million worth of projects in the downtown area alone, with more on the way. The Block 41, 6th Avenue Project and Debenham’s apartment complex are substantial investments that will bring much needed housing to the city center and create hundreds of jobs in the process. With only 4% unemployment, and the number of residents receiving unemployment benefits at the lowest level since 1999, nearly everyone in Anchorage who wants a job has one or can get one.
As we all know, Anchorage is facing a housing shortage. To counter this, I proposed a arrangement to stimulate the development of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) – known as mother-in-law apartments – by offering a 10-year tax holiday to owners who build an ADU on their property. To further stimulate development and construction in Anchorage, we have undertaken a massive rewrite of Title 21, which has been approved by the Assembly. The benefits of this effort are already bearing fruit – construction activity is at the top nearly $50 million this year out of 2021.
When I took office, ending homelessness was at the top of my list. However, it quickly became clear that saving and rebuilding the Port of Alaska had to come first. With 90% of Alaskans dependent on goods and food coming into the port, and the port at risk of collapse in an earthquake, I directed all available resources to deal with this impending crisis.
We asked the state for $600 million to help repair the ailing cargo docks, rallied port users to support our plan, traveled to Washington, DC, to present the case to our congressional delegation and lobby the heads of federal agencies, and spent a lot of time in Juneau during the legislative session imploring lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and Governor Mike Dunleavy – who has helped our cause immensely – about the need to get funding this year.
This work paid off, as we got the biggest credit ever — $200 million — for shipping. The Municipality also triumph in our lawsuit against the Federal Maritime Administration (MARAD), which could result in damages of $367 million due to sloppy design, construction and management failures that occurred during a previous port expansion.
With regard to homelessness, it is clear that the progress made over the past year on this issue is historic. Never before have so many people come together to address this humanitarian crisis facing our city. Thanks to work with the Assembly and community partners, there are now hundreds of new transitional housing units that did not exist before the pandemic. These include 83 beds in the former Sockeye Inn for the elderly and disabled, 130 rooms in the former GuestHouse for workforce supported housing, and 80 similar rooms at the Aviator Hotel. This fall, The Salvation Army will reopen its earthquake-damaged facility on 48th Avenue with 68 additional addiction treatment beds.
Sullivan Arena, which used to cost taxpayers $1 million a month to operate, is now closed and being repaired to bring it back to its purpose as a center for sporting and community events. Perhaps most importantly, the municipality will play a direct role in the homelessness crisis with the planned opening of the navigation center this autumn. This combined 150-bed homeless shelter and navigation center will provide an entry point into the system for hundreds of people in Anchorage who don’t know where to start. All of these seemingly independent steps bring us one step closer to solving this community problem together.
I would be remiss if I did not mention property taxes and the budget. The budget I presented last fall was $7.5 million lower than the budget proposed by the previous administration. In addition, the property tax savings realized by owners of average-priced homes were greater than $560 under my budget. My commitment to reducing the tax burden on homeowners remains firm. We will continue to look for ways to make government leaner, more efficient and accountable to people, while keeping our city safe.
No misguided COVID warrants, stops, or restrictions have been issued by my office. We’ve taken the municipality – aka the ratepayers – out of COVID testing activity and working with community partners, we’ve increased the availability of testing, vaccine, and treatment clinics in our city. We kept businesses open, churches revered and gatherings organized in Anchorage.
As mayor, it is essential to hear and meet the people I represent. Over the past year, I have participated in over 220 events and ceremonies, as well as 67 speeches. My office is open and I am here to listen to you.
Likewise, some of the work my team has done to connect and build our city includes organizing relief efforts for volcano-stricken residents of Tonga; organize several job fairs to provide employment opportunities to disadvantaged communities; teaching financial literacy to elementary school children; engaging young people in Anchorage in their local government; and launching a mentoring program within the mayor’s office.
These accomplishments are just one example of the work my administration has undertaken over the past year. Besides being a husband and a father, it is the greatest privilege and honor of my life to be your mayor. Representing and working on behalf of 300,000 people every day is a rewarding and motivating experience. I will continue to advance policies that grow our economy and create jobs, keep property taxes low, limit government encroachment on your freedoms, protect life and property, and put people first.
Thank you for your trust and your prayers.
David Bronson is the mayor of Anchorage.
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