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Mayor Bronson delivers State of the City address

The mayor appeared remotely due to being a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case
Anchorage, Alaska.
Anchorage, Alaska.
Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 4:44 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson delivered his State of the City address Monday morning, giving remarks through a Zoom call.

Bronson appeared at the “Make it Monday” forum held by the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce virtually rather than in person, due to following COVID-19 quarantine protocols. Mike Robbins, executive director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, has tested positive for COVID-19, the mayor’s office confirmed Monday.

Bronson, who came into close contact with Robbins, is now quarantining.

“No one else is needing to quarantine,” said Communication Director Corey Allen Young via email.

This is the second time this month Bronson has quarantined due to being a close contact with a positive COVID-19 case. Two members of his administration, Municipal Manager Amy Demobski and Municipal Attorney Patrick Bergt tested positive earlier in October, prompting an upcoming Anchorage Assembly meeting to be canceled.

Bronson touched on several topics that have defined his time as mayor so far, most notably public safety, homelessness and the response to COVID-19, with additional talk on park development and financial accountability. He said the “future is very bright” if the city joins together to “create a government that embraces personal responsibility” and supports economic growth in the private sector.

The mayor said he wants to cut down on spending and institute financial accountability standards.

“We simply cannot sustain this level of spending,” Bronson said. “I’ve directed my administration to make sustainable cuts that don’t affect core services.”

The fiscal year 2022 budget proposed by Bronson earlier this month would cut $7.5 million reduction, or about a 1.3% reduction from the previous budget. It largely leaves services like fire and police untouched, and eliminates a total of 53 city positions — 34 that are currently vacant and 19 that are filled.

During his address Monday, Bronson said the employee positions that were eliminated were “nonessential.”

“Just keep in mind that people in positions subject to elimination will have the opportunity to obtain elsewhere within the municipality of Anchorage,” he said.

Bronson noted that reimbursements from FEMA for both earthquake damage and the response to COVID-19 have been delayed, but said that approximately $50 million in reimbursements that were expected around April and May will be coming back to the municipality.

The mayor also emphasized paying off bond debt for the city, saying that next year the city will pay off more bond debt than it will be taking on.

“We were able to absorb cost of living and labor increases and still cut spending,” Bronson said. “This is the first step in looking for even more efficiencies.”

When it comes to COVID-19, Bronson noted increased testing for the virus as part of the city’s response. The city recently increased testing hours after they had initially been cut back in an attempt to make funding last through the end of October. After the assembly approved $2.65 million in additional funding, the testing hours were brought back up to prior levels.

Bronson also noted the city’s attempts to expand vaccination and COVID-19 treatment. Earlier this month, the mayor’s office announced a new partnership with a company called WEKA Medical to run a monoclonal antibody clinic at the former Golden Lion Hotel. The facility also provides testing and vaccines. WEKA Medical was issued a business license by the state about two weeks prior to the city’s announcement, on Sept. 20.

“We worked with community partners to create public-private partnerships to improve care and services to residents of the city,” Bronson said of the Anchorage Health Department. “And we are working to return to pre-COVID service levels as we get back to providing all the traditional services that the Anchorage Health Department typically provides.”

Bronson ran on a campaign that in part opposed ongoing mitigation measures put into place by the previous administration. He has long opposed mandating mask wearing or vaccines, and has publicly opposed the most recent temporary mask requirement voted in by the assembly.

Bronson called the city’s ongoing struggle to house those experiencing homelessness a high, “if not top,” priority for the administration.

“My administration remains committed to providing the help that every one of our neighbors experiencing homelessness needs to return to self-sufficiency or live their best life,” Bronson said.

After an initial proposal from the administration for a mass shelter and navigation center failed to get assembly approval, members of the assembly and administration met with a third-party facilitator to come up with a new plan to tackle homelessness. They recently unveiled the result of those meetings, a plan to transition people out of the Sullivan Arena and house people in a mixture of several smaller shelters and existing privately-run shelters throughout the city.

Bronson said while he would prefer to close the Sullivan Arena and move to another location, he said his administration strives to maintain it as a safe place for clients to stay in the meantime.

Another major focus of Bronson’s address was the Port of Alaska in Anchorage. He highlighted a modernization program for the port which he said will replace aging docks, broken pilings and tackling other infrastructure challenges. He said improvements to the port will help shore up food security of Alaska, noting that seismic events can impact the port and its operations.

“Twenty percent of the pilings under one dock failed during the 2018 earthquake,” Bronson said. “This is a big deal.”

To achieve these improvements, Bronson said his administration will ask for a $165 million bond from the municipality, $250 million from the state and $750 million from the federal government.

“This is a big project,” he said. “It will take a great deal of investment, but this must be done. It has to be.”

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