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Assembly begins mulling legislative funding list

Posted: January 12, 2012 - 1:10am

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly has gotten its first look at a list of project funding requests for the Legislature.

The Assembly as the Finance Committee saw the first draft of the list prepared by City Manager Rod Swope on Wednesday night. The members will go through the list and rank them according to importance, and the updated list will be presented at the next committee meeting.

On the list is Bartlett Regional Hospital’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit ($2 million request), Juneau International Airport snow removal equipment facility ($3.1 million request), city snow storage facilities for two possible locations pending Environmental Assessment reviews ($2 million), city chemical shed — would fund the fifth phase of a new public works facility in Lemon Creek ($1.5 million), Centennial Hall roof replacement ($1.3 million), Aurora Harbor rebuild ($2 million), Statter Harbor haul-out ramp ($1.8 million), fire department mobile data terminals to give dispatch information in “real time” and expedite responses ($66,000), fire department communications replacement to replace systems in Juneau, Glacier and Auke Bay stations because systems are beyond useful lives and no longer have replacement parts ($375,000), police department dispatch software that would update an outdated system ($122,000), and funding for crisis intervention specialist that was federally funded for two years but the funding source is gone ($111,000).

The crisis intervention specialist was added to the list Wednesday night. Swope said both the department and employee understand the position was to be as long as there was funding from the federal government for it.

“She works with victims of domestic violence until that person can get back to normal and in a safe situation,” Swope said. “She’s been doing a very good job. The funding ends June 30. She understood coming in it was federally funded. The cost of the program is $111,000, wages and everything else. I thought since it was a good community service, that I would ask you if I could go ahead and add that to the list for consideration.”

The Assembly agreed to add it to the list.

Assembly Member Carlton Smith asked if it was normal to have fire and police requests so low compared to capital improvement projects. Swope said yes and no, but that’s because the city hasn’t asked the state for that kind of funding. Normally these kinds of requests are funded through federal programs, however Congress hasn’t been re-funding them. The amount sought is typically comparable to what would be asked of federal grants.

Assembly Member Jesse Kiehl asked if the $2 million for snow storage facilities was for one or both sites. Swope said he left the designation of the funding vague so it could go to either site if either is accepted in the environmental assessment. One facility is the redesign of the Juneau-Douglas Treatment Plant, that would allow for more space for snow storage, the other is a valley site located on Forest Service land.

Kiehl also disagreed with keeping Centennial Hall’s roof replacement on the list, but not because of replacement necessity.

“I absolutely agree the roof needs to be done,” he said. “I am concerned about putting money for Centennial Hall in the city’s request to the delegation. Juneau’s legislators have been extremely supportive in the past.”

He said they have approved funding for the roof three times. Each of those times two governors have vetoed the funding in the end.

“Despite the fact we absolutely need to do it, it is not a place we should be asking to do it,” Kiehl said. “It may be time for us to look in the city’s own capital improvement. Just the history of this, despite the best efforts of all concerned, this is going to have to be funded elsewhere.”

Centennial Hall remains on the list for Assembly member ranking, however that status could change following member actions.

In other business, the committee heard a budget overview from City Finance Director Craig Duncan.

Duncan’s presentation still showed a projected $7.8 million deficit for fiscal years 2013 and 2014. Duncan was optimistic in those projections, however, after the tough work of decreasing the budget. In FY 13 the deficit is expected to be about $4.8 million. In FY14 that deficit is expected to be less — $2.9 million. Duncan showed sales tax and property value assessments on an upward trend as well, though both are still below where calendar year 2008 was projected to go in 2009 and forward. That was assuming a 3 percent growth rate annually. In FY 2010 the difference from the previously projected sales tax revenues and actuals was 11.7 percent. The projected growth rate is currently anticipated at 4 percent, which translates to growth, but not at a pace that quickly catches Juneau up to past projections.

So where’s the deficit if things are growing? That’s coming from several sectors of decreasing revenues and less to do with increasing expenses, with the exception of fuel costs. Short-term commercial investment yields have been dramatically dropping, according to a graph Duncan provided from the Federal Reserve System. State revenue sharing is down from last fiscal year because of a one-time boost from the Legislature, but otherwise remains flat from FY 2009. Federal revenues — such as grants and secure rural school/roads — also are diminishing or no longer funded.

“This number is subject to change,” Swope said of the estimates. “We still have a lot of information yet to come in from departments. They have yet to close their books. One example is fuel costs. We had to give instruction to our departments two years ago — ‘base your fuel costs on this number.’ It was our best guess at that time. Obviously fuel costs have changed considerably from what we had guesstimated. It could be several hundred thousand for general operations.”

Assembly Member Ruth Danner asked how they go about cutting $7.8 million.

Swope said it isn’t easy. He said they have been not filling positions. Swope said some have referred to it as a hiring freeze, although that isn’t entirely true. He said department leaders must show evidence that filling those positions is absolutely essential — and some have been refilled.

Swope said he also has asked departments to look at their budgets and reconsider the necessity of portions of their budget. Some have cut back, but Swope also is a little concerned with some of the cutbacks.

“I think in some cases we’ve seen reductions that can’t be sustained,” he said.

Danner also asked if the city, while adding some services, has grown too much.

Swope said that actually isn’t the case. He said that since the deficit several years ago they have been particularly careful with how much the city budget grows.

“Staffing levels in the budgets will verify that,” he said. “We really haven’t increased at all.”

The committee will address specific departments that members wish to know more about on Feb. 15 and 29, and will continue wading through the budget. Future finance committee meetings this year will begin at 5:30 p.m., instead of 5 p.m.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

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