News from Patrick Flynn

2011 budget bits, first edition

Last Friday’s Assembly work session included three hours focused on the administration’s proposed 2011 budget where we delved into some of the details for the following departments:

  • Chief Fiscal Officer
  • Community Development
  • Finance
  • Heath & Human Services
  • Information Technology
  • Internal Audit
  • Library
  • Public Works
  • Purchasing
  • Real Estate

This year’s approach is a little different as departments are presenting their aspects of the capital budget concurrently with their operating budgets, and providing so-called PVRs, which stands for Performance. Value. Results.  (In the real world we actually call them metrics but don’t tell the administration, lest we hurt the feelings of whomever came up with the clever idea to call ’em PVRs.)  Part of the reason for this approach is the capitalization of labor costs where employees are working on a capital program.  This is common practice, and appropriate, but at least one Assembly member expressed concern about maintaining accurate year-over-year comparisons, especially since those capital-funded employees will not necessarily go away once their capital projects are complete and therefore migrate back to operating budget funding.  In the meantime, however, it allows the budget to show a quasi-reduction in employee count.

So, with those ground rules in place, here are some of the highlights from our work session:

New CAMA system:

The CAMA, or Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal, system is slated for replacement.  Given the one in place is very, very old, this is a good thing and will actually allow Property Appraisal to reduce the number of employees.  It should also help ensure appraisals are accurate, though most private-sector appraisers I’ve spoken with feel the city does a pretty good job on that front.

Increased fees & fines:

An administration proposal slated for introduction on Tuesday, October 26, would increase 126 different fines and fees (or fee schedules).  Because the Treasury folks collect many of those fees and fines they spent some time on the subject and we’ve also added a work session on October 29 at 1:30 pm to go into further detail.  Among the changes discussed were the following:

  • Increasing “bad check” charges from $20 to $30.
  • Increasing aircraft registration taxes for single-engine planes from $75 to $150 and for twin engine planes from $125 to $250.  It’s worth noting that we’ve already heard from quite a few pilots who are less than pleased.  If I decide to vote for this I may have to change dentists, since mine is both a pilot and so conservative he makes other conservatives blush, but it’s worth noting that prior to 1994 planes were taxed based on value and taxes were therefore much higher.  The Alaska Dispatch has an article on the subject here.
  • Motor vehicle registration taxes would increase beginning in 2012 to mirror those in the Valley, though that increase would likely occur at roughly the same time as the IM program ending, so it would appear somewhat neutral to vehicle owners.

Information Technology:

The big news in IT is a planned RFP for a new ERP, or Enterprise Resource Planning, system.  ERPs are essentially the backbone of an organization’s IT system and a new one should pay efficiency dividends.  My understanding is AWWU is also planning a RFP for an ERP of its own and that has me concerned as I don’t believe AWWU is either large enough or complicated enough to justify having a separate ERP system.  AWWU is ostensibly independent from the rest of the municipality but the Assembly retains ultimate authority over their budget so expect further discussion on this topic prior to final budget approval.

Health & Human Services:

A few things caught my attention in the H&HS budget:

  • H&HS fund sources are roughly half local, and half state and federal grants.
  • That ratio will tip a little toward grants as public health nurses, which are state-funded everywhere in Alaska, are starting to receive state support.
  • Despite the impending elimination of the IM program there remains no plan for how to fund Anchorage’s required Air Quality program, nor is there a clear definition of what that program will look like.  I asked that both be prepared and presented to the Assembly no later than mid-2011.
  • Responding to a neighbor who, like many people, is sensitive to mold I inquired as to the cost of expanding mold monitoring into the winter months.
  • Grants to non-profits are slated to drop from $514,000 to $427,000 including eliminating support for Project Access, which helps those without health insurance.  In our budget books the cut was justified by noting that the organization is, “supported by other funding sources withing the community.”  Upon further questioning, administration officials admitted that they were unaware of any new community fund sources and suggested that Project Access could compete for other community and arts grants offered by the city.  That might be a reasonable public policy position, except that the pool to which they’re referring is slated to shrink from $530,000 to $370,000 in 2011, and the 2010 budget was smaller than 2009’s.  Suffice it to say, I find this approach troubling.


While I’m pleased with the new library branch in Mountain View I’m not terribly happy with the plan to close the Samson-Dimond branch in the Dimond Center mall, especially when we learned Dimond Center owners offered to waive rent costs, currently about $134,600 annually, for several years if the city agreed to keep the branch open.  Eliminating the branch would save $431,125 so municipal officials countered that they’d prefer an “express” library, shrinking from the existing 12,000 square feet down to about 3,500, dramatically reducing the collection (patrons could still order books on-line or at a library computer and pick them up at the branch) and focusing on computer-based services with, you guessed it, a smaller staff.  Why no one could find middle ground in this discussion is rather puzzling to me so I expect to dig further into this one.  (I know, it isn’t my district, but I happen to like libraries.)

A few other interesting facts:

  • Anchorage spends less on libraries and library materials per capita than similar-size cities.
  • Anchorage has more library card holders per capita than similar-size cities (and yes, library card accounts are purged after a few years of inactivity).
  • Anchorage has a lower circulation per capita (items checked out annually) than similar-size cities.

Meanwhile the library has some capital projects at the Loussac branch they’d like to address.  First, they want to demolish the stairs and plaza leading to the second floor entrance.  This would allow for a new entrance on the ground floor with less risk of slips and falls on the stairs.  Second, the sound system in the Wilda Marston theater is out of date and causes potential renters to go elsewhere so they’d like an update.  Finally, the popularity of the outdoor book drop requires staff to empty those repositories every two hours, which is neither pleasant nor safe in the winter months.  They’d like to migrate that book drop indoors, though patrons would still be able to drive up to the repository thus staying in their nice warm cars.

Public Works:

Not a lot to report here as the recent reorganization continues to take shape and savings are not entirely clear.  Downtown patrons may find it interesting that streets with ice melt systems will operate this winter but sidewalks with similar systems will not, with the goal of saving $200,000.  The administration noted that simply means business owners will need to clear their own sidewalks but didn’t have an answer when I asked how much the city would spend clearing sidewalks adjacent to property we own (like Town Square park).  They’ll get back to me on that.

A wild card for both the public and private sectors are Alaska Pollution Discharge Elimination System (APDES) permits.  My understanding is this federally-mandated, state-managed program regulates wastewater and is expanding to include snow dump sites.  How that manifests itself will affect the cost of snow plowing and removal.

And, as previously referenced, fees for many building and other permits are slated to increase.

Looking ahead:

In addition to the fees & fines work session on the 29th we’ll have another budget work session on November 5 where we discuss budgets for:

  • Employee Relations
  • Equal Rights Commission
  • Fire Department
  • Office of Management & Budget
  • Mayor’s office
  • Municipal Attorney
  • Municipal Manager
  • Parks & Recreation
  • Police Department
  • Public Transportation
  • the five enterprise funds; Port, AWWU, ML&P, Solid Waste Services and Merrill Field.

Regards the enterprise funds, I’ve been asked to do a little pre-work session review so I’ll be trying to schedule that for later this week.

Public hearings on the budget will occur at Assembly meetings on October 26, November 9 and November 23 so feel free to offer your thoughts on any aspect of the budget either in person or otherwise!



This contribution was made on Sunday, 24. October 2010 at 14:44 and was published under the category Fiscal matters. You can follow comments on this entry through the RSS-Feed.

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  1. Good write up. And insights. Library also needs new projector in wilda marston. Our group, Alaskan apple users Grp meets monthly and we have to bring our own projector and audio system.

    Comment: Gary Miller – 24. October 2010 @ 7:55 pm

  2. Thanks for the information Pat. I’m also sad to see the closure of the Dimond library branch, I think it’s location in the mall is particularly handy to patrons in south Anchorage. I also want to thank you for your motion on Tuesday 10/26 to add to the ASD budget. As a member of AEA and an employee and supporter of public education it feels good to see that there are public officials who realize that education is expensive, but that it is important and that continuing to flat fund education just hurts kids. Obviously, ASD still has budget cuts ahead, but reducing that burden, even by a little bit, helps educators, helps schools, and most importantly helps students.

    Comment: Margaret Gadsden – 05. November 2010 @ 7:26 am

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