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City workers shouldering more after job cuts

New fiscal year means 12 fewer employees

Posted: July 9, 2014 - 12:01am

A couple months after the fiscal year 2015 budget was adopted, cuts have become real for a group of city employees who lost their jobs to help balance an approximately $6 million shortfall.

The equivalent of about 12 full-time jobs were cut across city departments. The last day for those employees was June 30. Now, about a week after the new fiscal year began July 1, remaining city employees are left to shoulder the work left by those who faced layoffs.

The city Community Development Department lost two full-time employees — its code enforcement officer and its database specialist.

The database specialist was “a liaison between two or three different departments” and kept tabs on every land parcel in the city, Community Development director Hal Hart said.

“To keep track of who owns what (parcel) and how that is,” he said. “It changes every day: People amend their parcels and their properties.”

The database specialist also responded to planners’ data requests. Pre-existing department employees are being trained to use the database, Hart said.

“We spread those functions out to two or three individuals on our team,” he said.

As for code enforcement, that duty will be added to the plates of the city’s six planners, Hart said. The job will rotate daily so everyone picks up some of the slack.

With a rearranged structure, the goal will be to get residents breaking building code to comply by asking first, he said.

“We get 95 to 97 percent compliance by just pointing out the fact, hey, you’re not consistent,” Hart said. “Now that we don’t have that position what we’ve done is we’ve written down what our policies are going to be because we’re teaching it now to everybody ... If they’re the planner of the day they’re going to have to follow through with that complaint.”

The volume of code complaints varies from day to day, so it’s hard to say just how much time planners will have to spend dealing with them, he said.

“Recently someone called in and said, I have 22 complaints, so that’s an issue,” Hart said. “We could all be doing compliance in a given day as we get smaller.

“It’s really nice to have a single person who the focus of their job is doing code compliance.”

Although the work is doable spread across the planning team, it might affect other projects already in the works, Hart said.

“It distracts us from other missions,” he said. “If our mission is to get an Auke Bay area plan, and now I’m spending four or five hours per week doing complaints, it lengthens out those other projects.”

City employee cuts will also affect residents. The Public Works Department lost two seasonal snow removal positions. Now, instead of the 20 snow removal workers the city has had, it will have 18, department director Kirk Duncan said.

“If we get two or three inches of snow life will be good,” he said. “But when we start getting eight to 10 inches of snow people will notice a reduction.”

Duncan said the reduction will come out to about a 10 percent slower response time on snow plowing and snow removal. How that plays out is contingent on how much snow Juneau gets this year.

“On a no-snow day you’re not going to notice it and on a big-snow day you’re going to notice it,” he said.

The Parks and Recreation Department lost the equivalent of 2.25 full-time jobs; one of those is a recreation coordinator. Without this position, the department had to cut its adult basketball program, a constant for more than 30 years. At the time it was cut, the program had 380 participants, department director Brent Fischer said.

Two department recreation coordinators remain, but with one-third less manpower, something had to go, Fischer said.

“We looked at what the remaining two other folks could do,” Fischer said. “We looked at the priorities, and our priority is youth. We had to eliminate something.”

The department looked at cutting either the adult volleyball program or the adult basketball program. The basketball program was chosen because it required far more coordination than volleyball, although the costs were comparable, Fischer said.

Besides the 380 people who will no longer be able to participate in the basketball program, there’s also a “trickle-down effect” to the city’s games officials, a group of part-time employees who got paid for five to 10 hours a year to officiate basketball games, Fischer said.

There’s been desire within the basketball community to get an independent league started, much like the Juneau Softball Association, recreation superintendent Myiia Wahto said. The group would be completely separate from Parks and Recreation.

“We’re trying to see if anyone’s interested and we can guide them on how to get it going,” she said.

But at this point, “we’re not doing anything with adult sports as far as basketball,” Fischer said. “Which is, from our standpoint, pretty sad, that we’ve had to eliminate that.”

The department has had to make major internal cuts for the past six years, he said. In fiscal year 2012, more than $400,000 was cut from Parks and Recreation’s $12 million budget, he said. More than $200,000 was cut in both 2013 and 2014.

“The public, they didn’t hear about that, they didn’t know — we did everything we could for it not to impact public services,” Fischer said. “There’s nothing left to cut, literally, from jobs and resources now.”

Another budget cut that went into effect is the loss of portable outhouses in five outdoor recreation areas: False Outer Point, Sunshine Cove, Aant’iyeik Fields, Lena Rotary Park and Mendenhaven Park. Cancelling the contract for the toilets saved the department $13,000, Fischer said.

The Treadwell Ice Arena also took a hit with the start of the fiscal year, with all three of its previously full-time employees being knocked down to 10-month employees, including rink manager Lauren Anderson.

The change affects the employees’ pay and benefits, Fischer said. The city is allowing these employees to seek temporary positions during the two months they’re not working for the city. Starting in calendar year 2015, the former full-time workers will have mid-May through mid-July off.

Also starting that year, the rink will be closed during June and July, Fischer said. The arena is historically used for camps during the summer when there’s no ice to skate on, but no longer.

On the new schedule, the ice will be taken out mid-April 2015 and re-installed in early August. The first day of public ice will be Aug. 11, Fischer said. This means two fewer weeks of ice time in April, Wahto said, and August hockey camp will only be one week long, instead of the usual two.

“It will impact (user groups) to some degree,” Fischer said.

After 20 years with the city, it’s hard to see so many cuts made this time around, he said.

“I’ve seen a little bit with the changes in the city, so it’s sad,” Fischer said.

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at 523-2294 or at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com. Follow her on Twitter @katecmoritz.

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TN Walker
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TN Walker 07/09/14 - 07:40 am
8
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With all the recreation cuts

With all the recreation cuts it should comfort everyone to know they can go to the new library and read a book.

Tim Miller
529
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Tim Miller 07/09/14 - 08:45 am
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The problem @cbj is that too

The problem @cbj is that too many employees make over 100K. Leave the toilets.

Samuel Joplin
241
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Samuel Joplin 07/10/14 - 10:32 am
3
1
I agree - Leave the outhouses!

It's a little funny/sad that our city officials think that cutting outhouses to save a paltry $13,000 is the way to go. Even a city planner should know that when you take away the receptacle, that poo you just stepped in on your nature hike may not have come from a dog! Maybe we should think about cutting back on the city greenhouses. Do we really need a half-million dollar operation for flowers in the median?
Where the heck was the city code enforcement person when the Native center plans were created?! That building doesn't fit in at all and will look terrible in a few short years when the sealer ages and the wood starts to fade. City planning... What a joke.

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