Policing, Bears Top Quarterly Muni Meeting
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
July’s quarterly meeting between Municipality and Girdwood Board of Supervisors (GBOS) featured detailed discussion on two important topics. Anchorage Police Department (APD) is planning to propose a policing contract for Girdwood Service Area (GSA), and what steps can be taken to reduce bear and trash encounters in Girdwood.
APD to Propose Police Contract
With Girdwood’s police contract with Whittier Police Department (WPD) set to expire in 17 months, APD is in the early stages of preparing a contract proposal. Discussion centers upon what level of service APD is willing to provide and what amount of service the community desires. WPD is also expected to place a proposal for what will likely be a multi-year contract starting in Jan. 2020.
Municipal Manager Bill Falsey gave a presentation to explain the complicated situation while acknowledging it is the beginning of a process to shape APD’s proposal.
“It isn’t really yet a proposal for service,” Falsey said, “but it is the outline of a puzzle we are trying to solve.”
The financial puzzle is includes GSA paying $635,000 annually for policing, which is 1.14 mils per taxpayer and one-third less than the rest of Anchorage pays for service. Residents in the Anchorage Metropolitan Police Service Area pay 3.37 mils for police service and have more advanced units such as detectives, SWAT and school resource officers.
Falsey summarized the problem by asking, “What service could the police department provide to Girdwood that you could pay between a third to half of what everybody else is paying? We do not yet have a good answer, but we have put our thinking caps on and we’re trying to work it out.”
Falsey suggested GBOS could tap its unused mils to its cap of 6 mils, which would pay $1 million for service but still be less than what Anchorage pays. The question to be answered is what services will be cut.
Another idea explored was using the Turnagain Arm Police Service Area (TAPSA) model, which offers policing for Rainbow, Indian, Bird Creek, Crow Creek Road, Portage and Fire Island. Under TAPSA, residents are taxed to create a $50,000 fund to pay for APD’s response for a call for service. APD does not respond to all calls, does not offer patrol service, and the fund is replenished annually.
Due to the mil rate cap limiting what GSA can pay toward policing, Falsey said, cuts to full APD service would be necessary.
“We’re trying to figure out what we don’t provide so we can explain why it costs less in Girdwood than it costs everywhere else,” Falsey said.
Falsey also said regular patrols would get cut, creating coverage similar to that of Alaska State Troopers before vacating their Girdwood post Sept. 30, 2016. APD would respond to calls for coverage, and their presence on Seward Highway would make for closer proximity for a response. APD would respond to emergencies, provide coverage for a few special events and have access to specialized divisions like detectives, but there would be no school resource officer. The contract would likely be 50 percent more than current figures with WPD, leading to an estimated 1.4 to 1.7 mils increase.
Supervisor Mike Edgington gave an assessment saying, “From the point of view of the people paying the taxes, we’d be getting all of the services we don’t currently have and don’t currently use and lose the service we do get, and we like, and we want to keep and pay 50 percent more for the privilege. I don’t think we would be within three votes if we put it up for election.”
APD Chief Justin Doll said officers patrolling Seward Highway every day spend a lot of time around Girdwood and Indian and would have good response times. He also pointed out other issues.
“From an operational perspective,” Doll said, “it would be really difficult for a police department to say ‘We’re going to patrol Girdwood, and we’re going to have an officer drive through neighborhoods, but if you have a homicide, we’re not going to handle that for you.’ How do we deal with the cost part with it being one-third less, but it might look to somebody who lives in another part of Anchorage to be the very same thing that we’re doing there. That’s probably a challenge.”
“That last point is the core problem,” Edgington stated. “It’s a political problem of how you provide a service that’s appropriate to Girdwood then don’t have other parts of Anchorage requesting the same thing.”
APD’s contract proposal will be reviewed at the Aug. 23 Public Safety Advisory Committee meeting at 7 p.m., and Chief Doll should be present.
Girdwood, Bears and Trash
This item on the agenda featured a number of topics related to bears and keeping them out of trash.
Mark Stafford, General Manager Solid Waste Services (SWS); Mark Gingrich, Division Vice President Alaska Waste (AW); and Kurt Froening, Assistant District Manager AW were present to offer their expertise.
Trash and code enforcement takes place throughout the Muni with residential and commercial properties. Enforcement is complaint driven, so if a bear is in a neighborhood with inappropriately handled trash, file a report with ADF&G at adfg.alaska.gov via the link: Report a Wildlife Encounter. ADF&G initially responds with a knock on doors, leaving door hangars and informational letters to neighborhoods. Repeat problem bears get a visit from ADF&G, potentially leading to fines.
The discussion turned to extending Girdwood’s transfer station hours.
“One of the things we’ve heard from a lot of community members is that the hours are somewhat restricted,” Edgington said. “It’s still four days a week, but there are three whole days when it is never open, and it is never open in the evenings. A lot of people commute and don’t have access. A lot of people work weekends or are travelling. Is there any flexibility or possibility of changing the hours around during the summer or extending them?”
Stafford replied, “We’re currently staffed from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fri.-Mon., If you wanted to change the hours, besides the scheduling piece, if we’re talking about adding more hours, there is obviously personnel costs associated with that.”
Stafford also said there was some flexibility, but SWS needs to find somebody to work that schedule, and it is not easy to keep booths appropriately staffed. It is not impossible to change the schedule, but a good reason would be required.
“What is the ability to add additional services to that transfer station such as recycling that will help you make up for the funds needed to hire additional staffing,” asked Supervisor Christina Cope Hendrickson. “I’ve heard from community members that it would be great if it could be more of a one-stop shop. If we could get to recycling or composting, which is currently being done within Anchorage, is there something there in adding those additional services?”
Stafford replied that SWS’s service area is the city of Anchorage, and outside of it, entities like AW provide curbside, recycling and garbage collection. SWS does not have the capability to collect recyclables or have an organics program outside of its area. He said recycling such as glass hauling gets subsidized since it costs more to handle than it does make money. He encouraged GBOS to work directly with him and find what the community wants as far as transfer station hours.
Edgington asked what it would take to acquire bear-resistant containers in GSA. Assembly Member John Weddleton said GBOS would need to review the issue in at least two meetings and pass a resolution that would go to the Anchorage Assembly for a vote.
Gingrich expressed reservations about a possible requirement saying, “The concern is when you require something or mandate it. That sometimes turns people off. Is that going to lead some folks to throw up their arms and say, ‘Well, I’m not. They mandated that I pay more for this service. I’m not going to use this service.’ Now what’s happening with that trash is we’re creating another trash problem. Sometimes mandating something can have repercussions that we can’t foresee.”