City to look at 'right sizing'

Assembly will determine what is, what is not essential service

A $6 million shortfall for fiscal year 2016 has caused the Assembly to begin rethinking what is and what is not an essential service.

At its finance committee meeting Wednesday, the Assembly began a discussion that likely will continue until January.

“The CBJ currently provides a broad range of services. As a result of the recent budget shortfalls, the Assembly is initiating discussions on which services the CBJ should continue to provide directly, which the CBJ should transition to other organizations, and determine if there are services which should no longer be publicly funded,” a report to the Assembly from city manager Kim Kiefer read. “It may be difficult to reach consensus in these discussions. It will be especially difficult as some members of the public advocate for the services they especially value, and other residents advocate for reducing costs generally. In many cases it will not simply be discussions of whether or not a service should be provided, but the level of service will be questioned.”

Right now, there are no specific plans to cut or change services. The Assembly will look at government function and determine ways to increase city revenue, improve efficiency in all departments and decrease spending, committee chairwoman Karen Crane said. She asked Kiefer for a “report back” on what every city department can do to spend less.

“We need to look at what would increase efficiency or income,” Crane said. “We’ve been working on government for a long time, and there’s a lot of things that need to be done.”

Assemblyman Loren Jones asked if capital improvement projects — the city’s construction projects — would also be considered in the ongoing conversations. He mentioned that feedback during the recent budget cycle revealed that many Juneau residents would rather have current facilities repaired than build new ones.

“Anything that will help us get over this $6 million shortfall is on the table in my mind, and should be in all of yours,” Mayor Merrill Sanford replied.

The Assembly also briefly discussed the creation of an empowered board to manage the city’s two pools, much like the existing Eaglecrest Ski Area and airport boards. At its Monday meeting, the Assembly directed Kiefer to begin the early stages of creating the board, which would go to a public vote in October.

But even before the board’s charter can go to a public vote, it must receive board approval by at least six votes.

“There are a lot of questions I have before I would be willing to vote for an empowered board,” Crane said.
If the Assembly doesn’t get the information it needs before OKing the empowered board, the public could get the wrong idea, she said. For example, Augustus Brown users could get the impression that the pool “is back and it’s open full-time and all the maintenance problems are taken care of, and that just might not be the case.”

The finance committee will meet again July 9 to continue the discussion on government right sizing.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com.

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