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Survey says: cut community development, admin

Posted: February 16, 2012 - 12:11am

The results are in from a McDowell Group survey on how Juneau residents feel about planning for the 2013-2014 budget and its projected $7.5 million deficit.

McDowell took three approaches to the survey to get the responses the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly and staff want as they take a look at how to cut $7.5 million over the next two fiscal years.

One was to ask if people preferred raising fees and taxes to increase revenue or make cuts.

The survey found 39 percent of 407 people surveyed by telephone wanted to reduce services, 30 percent wanted to see an increase in taxes or fees, 22 percent wanted both, 4 percent said neither, 5 percent didn’t know.

The respondents also were asked to identify areas they wanted to see reduced, and areas they wanted to keep.

Community development was the least favored city department with 68 percent saying they were either “very supportive” or “supportive” of a reduction. City administration wasn’t far behind with 64 percent “supportive” or “very supportive” of cuts. Parks and Recreation was the third on the list, albeit with a bigger gap in dissension — 49 percent were at least supportive of cuts — but 48 percent were opposed or very opposed. The number of people opposed or very opposed to cuts in libraries, public works, police services, Juneau School District, and fire and rescue increased in that order.

They also were asked which two city departments were most important to maintain, and which two were least important. Most important were police (58 percent), fire and rescue (49 percent) and schools (46 percent). Least important were city administration (58 percent), community development (41 percent) and parks and recreation (35 percent).

Eric McDowell, of the McDowell Group, said one thing that’s interesting in this study is the numbers of people in the most extreme categories — “very supportive” or “very opposed” were fairly low in most questions.

McDowell said there wasn’t much passion about the budget or deficit from citizens.

The study also looked at how people would favor increases in fees or taxes. Citizens most favored a new seasonal sales tax to add dollars to the city coffers — 39 percent were in favor. Thirty percent were in favor of increased user fees, 15 percent supported an increased year-round sales tax, 9 percent wanted no increases, 3 percent favored increased property taxes, 3 percent refused or didn’t know an answer, 1 percent favored all sources.

Respondents were most opposed place to gaining more revenue through higher property taxes — with 54 percent opposed. Twenty-four percent were opposed to increased year-round sales taxes, 7 percent opposed to increased user fees, 7 percent disliked a new seasonal sales tax, 6 percent opposed all forms of revenue increases, while 2 percent opposed none.

Citizens also were asked if they supported a reduction in the Capital Improvement Project budget — 68 percent were supportive or very supportive of reducing it.

McDowell and Senior Project Manager Bob Koenitzer said residents also were asked to give an open-ended response on services or programs within departments they would cut — 64 percent of the respondents couldn’t give specifics. McDowell Group provided the 195 comments of the 36 percent who did, but warned while the comments are interesting, they do not statistically represent the opinion of Juneau residents as a whole.

“There wasn’t a lot of passion about the budget,” McDowell said. “There didn’t seem to be a lot of knowledge about it.”

Koenitzer said they had asked people how informed they felt about local issues and topics, and 80 percent said they were at least somewhat informed.

“I think its just a function of the complexity of city government,” Koenitzer said. “People are not understanding what’s in administration, what’s in community development. People pretty much know what’s in police or fire.”

A sampling of answers people provided to the open-ended question of what specifically to cut included:

• Administration — city clerk’s office, city administration staff, upper level city administration staff, mayor’s budget, engineering department budget.

• Airport — the airport itself, airport budget.

• Community Development — docks and harbors budget, harbor master’s office and staff, acquisition of harbors, improvement budget.

• Juneau School District — high school upper administration, food program budget, sports facilities budget, computers, one high school, teachers.

• Landscaping — downtown seasonal landscaping, flowers.

• Library — hours, facilities, staff.

• Museum — reduce budget.

• Parking — fines and meters had multiple objections.

• Parks and recreation — close aquatic center, reduce Eaglecrest Ski Area budget (12 responses), downtown swimming pool, both pools, no new trails, close Treadwell Arena, reduce field maintenance, reduce youth programs.

• Police — reduce officers downtown, reduce MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) funding from JPD, drug enforcement budget, police force, administrative services, DARE program.

• Public Works — summer street sweeping, reduce plowing and sanding, road maintenance, sewer and water management, water budget.

• Staff/payroll — reduce hours worked and wages, impose hiring and salary freezes, shrink retirement packages, rework union waste/labor contracts, and reduce the City Prosecutor’s Office.

• Tourism — reduce funding of the visitors’ center, marketing activities and the development budget.

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

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