Addressing road maintenance issues in Anchorage -- who fronts the bill?


ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Anchorage Assembly wants to replace the city’s outdated road drainage systems by forming a Stormwater Utility.

John Weddleton, Assembly member for South Anchorage, says the city has been dealing with problems like sink holes and water drainage issues as they pop up -- but the cost of that approach is spilling over.

"We spend $10 - 20 million dollars a year now on general maintenance, plus capital costs,” Weddleton said, “and we have a billion dollars-worth of backlog."

Weddleton wants to reduce this spending - and prevent future bumps in the road.

"A lot of the money we put into rebuilding our roads is because stormwater is messing them up,” Weddleton said, pointing to a steep Hillside road replete with potholes. “And right over here on 142nd is a great example, where groundwater makes a mess out of that road continuously."

Weddleton has co-authored the ordinance that would create a Stormwater Utility to replace current infrastructure, with the goal of generating revenue needed to properly maintain the city's road systems.

In theory, the ordinance would divide Anchorage into five road service districts, from Hillside to Girdwood, and charge users in each district according to how much drainage they create. This could mean businesses in downtown would pay higher service rates than homes in Hillside.

Weddleton says keeping rates fair will be a balancing act.

"That's really the key issue -- is it fair, and is it a dollar amount that we can handle?” Weddleton said. “We are a city, so even if you live in the Hillside and you're not much impact, you use the rest of the city that relies on a good stormwater system.”

“So we can say, 'Okay, how much can we reasonably collect?' I guess we could set a price and say, 'Okay, that's what everybody has to pay,' but we have to look at what's reasonable for homeowners and businesses in this city."

Some homeowners, like Mike Jens from Hillside, agree it’s time to draw upon the entire city to maintain roads. Jens has voluntarily managed the roads in his neighborhood for two decades. His community lives outside of the city's road service area, so they take care of road maintenance on their own.

"I think, in the long run, weather is changing, drainage patterns are going to change -- the idea of putting a stormwater utility together to get everybody to participate in the solutions seems to make sense to me -- as long as they can keep the price reasonable, right?" Jens said.

Users would be looking at a decrease in property taxes so that -- according to the ordinance -- the utility would not have to use taxes to fund stormwater-related projects. It would instead be "financed from other sources."

It's still unclear how much rates would increase or decrease in the different service areas. Weddleton will propose the city conduct a rate survey to clarify this issue when the ordinance is introduced at Tuesday’s regular Assembly meeting.

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