More than 100 people — young and old — filled City Hall chambers Monday to speak their mind on next year’s budget and how the city plans to save money going forward.
Monday’s City and Borough of Juneau Assembly meeting was the public’s first chance to speak on the budget since the current planning cycle began. More than 30 people signed up to address the assembly, most of whom where there to talk about closing the downtown pool and proposed property tax increase.
City manager Kim Kiefer proposed in her version of the FY 2015 budget to “mothball” the downtown pool indefinitely to save the city on operation costs to help balance the $15 million deficit the city must account for over the next two years. A proposed property tax increase would amount to approximately $142 extra per year on a $300,000 home and would add about $1.9 million to the budget both years.
Mayor Merrill Sanford reminded the crowd that nothing would be approved Monday night. The final budget is still being pieced together by the assembly and must be adopted by June 15.
“We’re not done with the budget tonight, it’s its starting point,” Sanford said.
Augustus Brown pool supporters wore blue stickers at the Monday meeting that said “Save our pool!” One little guy sat on the floor waving a handmade sign against closing the downtown pool. Many different user groups were represented during public comment, including the Glacier Swim Club, senior citizens, school groups and programs, people undergoing physical therapy, young adults, the local Special Olympics group, low-income families and the Downtown Business Association.
Swimmers Bill Leighty and Jim Carroll said they feel they’re underpaying for pool passes. They said they’d be willing to pay more if it would help make up the large gap between what the pool earns and how much it takes to run it. The pool costs about $1 million to operate but takes in about a quarter of that in revenue.
With his senior discount, Leighty paid $149, “which is far below the value of using the pool,” he said. “I have underpaid, I am inviting all of us to pay more to close the subsidy gap.”
He also suggested a “holiday on the senior sales tax exemption” and to rescind the $3 million in salary increases approved last year for city staff.
Wilma Kirkpatrick said the city maintains tracks, workout equipment and Eaglecrest Ski Area, “which are great -- but not for the elderly.” She said closing the pool would take away the one place Juneau’s downtown seniors can go for exercise.
Daniel Cornwall said he supports keeping the pool open, and also suggested increasing property tax even further than Kiefer’s proposal.
“We can’t just demand things and not be willing to pay for them,” he said. “I suggest (Kiefer’s proposed increase) be considered a floor ... We still have to take all the cuts that have been proposed in the budget.”
News of mothballing the downtown pool caught the attention of an old yet new member of the business community. Delta airlines representative Mike Medeiros announced at the meeting that the company will donate $10,000 to help keep the pool open.
Lance Stevens, Juneau Chamber of Commerce president elect, was among three people who spoke on behalf of the chamber regarding property tax increases. He said any increase “is a budget balancing strategy the chamber is opposed to on the strongest possible terms.”
He said more city service and job cuts should be made to prevent a tax increase, and that the cuts proposed and approved so far have been “insignificant.”
Greg Fisk of another business group, the Downtown Business Association, did not speak on the tax but instead focused on the pool, which he said makes downtown attractive to developers and could “help save our housing crisis.”
All three city ordinances considered by the assembly Monday night, the city budget, the school budget and the property tax increase, were forwarded unanimously to the finance committee, where they’ll be further discussed. One ordinance would appropriate $307.4 million for FY 2015 operating budget and another would appropriate about $96 million to the school district, which included local funding of about $25 million.