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My Turn: Can we sustain all the Borough activities?

Posted: January 28, 2013 - 1:02am

Shortly after the October municipal election, the new Assembly met in retreat. Recently on a local radio program City Manager Kim Kiefer indicated that the Assembly Committee of the Whole met and reviewed the draft goals they established one more time and decided they were good to go.

Late last year Kiefer said the CBJ’s current organization is ‘not sustainable.

Kiefer reports the Assembly also wants to get a better sense of the financial review for their departments aside from what happens during the normal budget process, which is coming up in a few months. Since City staff has yet to fully inform us about this sustainability problem, let alone figure out a way to address it, here are a few facts to consider:

The CBJ budget is about $254 million. With a population of 32,000, that works out to about $8,000 per resident. Is anyone asking how this level of spending compares with other communities of a similar size?

It is estimated that 90 percent of our CBJ budget goes to pay personnel costs. How does this compare with other municipalities?

The CBJ is also burdened with a large unfunded liability for both PERS (Public Employee Retirement System) and TERS (Teachers Employee Retirement System). How does this obligation compare with other similar communities? Do we have a strategy to pay it off?

The CBJ manages over $500,000,000 in assets — buildings, equipment, and tools — all of which must be maintained. More local projects are coming on line (like an additional library) most of which will not be self- supporting. Deferred maintenance is now being financed in part by sales tax revenue rather than a budget item established as these projects come on line.

Do we have a strategy to deal with deferred maintenance or will we just keep borrowing money to maintain our assets?

How does the CBJ inventory of assets, particularly our public facilities, compare with other Alaska cities of a similar size?

State revenue is projected to fall unless oil production is increased. Federal spending in Alaska is also projected to continue to decline. Compared with the rest of the state, Juneau’s population remains relatively flat, meaning no new taxpayers will be added to either our property or sales tax base. And, with the aging of Juneau’s population, more residents will be claiming Juneau’s sales tax exemption for those aged 65 and older.

Do our CBJ Assembly and staff have a strategy to address reductions in revenue streams? The current trajectory suggests we are well on our way to looking like Stockton or Vallejo — the California cities that let things get out of control and ended up in bankruptcy.

To its credit, the Assembly (for two years in a row) has identified the need for a plan. The role of the Assembly is to agree on what is needed and set policy. It’s staff’s job to take action to implement the will of the body. Juneau’s fiscal future depends on that implementation. So what’s the plan? And when can we expect to hear from staff about their strategy?

• Kahklen is a Juneau resident, a Tlingit member of the Raven clan and Dog Salmon tribe, and member of the First Things First Alaska Foundation Board. First Things First Alaska Foundation (FTFAF) is dedicated to preserving the economic viability and future of Alaska through education.

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