At its Wednesday meeting, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly finance committee finalized the city’s fiscal year 2015 budget, way ahead of its June 15 deadline. At the end of the day, the Assembly cut services and dipped into the general fund balance to make up for a $6 million shortfall.
The decision must still be approved at a regular Assembly meeting, but large changes from Wednesday’s choices are unlikely.
The finance committee unanimously restored funding for the Augustus Brown Swimming Pool, going against city manager Kim Kiefer’s recommendation to mothball the facility until its repair needs can be assessed.
The Assembly also bucked the manager’s recommendation by voting down an increase in property tax. The proposed increase would have amounted to approximately $142 extra per year on a $300,000 home, but thousands more for businesses with a large footprint, such as local grocery stores and the area’s two mines. Approving the increase would have added $1.9 million to the city budget.
The Assembly decided instead to withdraw $2.7 million from the city’s general fund balance to cover the shortfall remaining after millions in cuts.
Before the group voted down the property tax increase, assemblyman Jerry Nankervis argued that Juneau’s government already collects too much in taxes, and has a spending problem, not a cash flow problem. He said a tax increase would hurt Juneau businesses, which would pass the buck to their customers.
“We collect more than most places in this state, and we’re going to try to collect more?” he said.
Assemblywoman Kate Troll said the city is already very business-friendly, and a tax increase to avoid dipping into the general fund would be the best decision.
Assemblyman Carlton Smith addressed Troll’s comment on Juneau being “business friendly.” He owns a commercial real estate company and said a tax increase would increase Juneau’s housing shortfall, “and it’s our No. 1 Assembly goal” to fix that problem.
“The local economy is not growing, it’s not vital, it’s recovering,” he said, referencing the nation’s 2008 economic crisis. “We’re not a vibrant business community, we’re recovering.”
By a close vote, the Assembly opted to hold the line on property taxes, which have not changed in eight years. Assemblyman Loren Jones was first to suggest at the meeting the city dip into the fund balance rather than raise taxes.
As it stands, the fiscal year 2016 budget plans for a $2.1 million draw from the fund balance. City finance director Bob Bartholomew projected at the meeting that the city would have a remaining $3.3 million in that account at the end of FY2016.
Throughout the budgeting process, the Assembly cut 15 city employees’ jobs. It also cut all city workers’ parking passes, a cost of $52,000 per year. City employees will now have to pay about $600 per year to park in a downtown garage.