Empire editorial: Resolutions for Juneau in 2010

Posted: Friday, January 01, 2010

It's that time of year again - saying good-bye to the old, ushering in the new, and setting goals for the upcoming year. Here are a few resolutions that should help get Juneau off to a good start in 2010:

Trimming the fat

One of the city's largest looming problems in 2010 is a projected budget deficit. Tax revenue is down across the board; and city officials are still looking at the possibility of cutting as many as 10 jobs.

One thing is certain: If Juneau can't close its funding gap, negative cash flow will follow. Among the other solutions it is discussing, the Assembly should continue to look for places to trim away excess services to ensure funding for those most in need. City officials will be forced to have some hard discussions in the coming months. Like any business model, the variety of services offered will correlate how much money is coming in.

A $2 million infusion from Juneau's sustainability fund will likely soften the impact of a projected sales tax shortfall for several city projects. But Juneau can't draw from its savings forever. Losing excess weight is never easy, but in lean times it must be done.

Slowing the flow of trash

It's Juneau's elephant in the room: The growing mountain of garbage at the dump in Lemon Creek. If the city can't reduce the influx of garbage, fairly soon it will have to find a new site to store it. One solution the city has been actively working on is recycling.

Juneau could have a pilot recycling program in place by December 2010, though some Assembly members have expressed concern about possible consumer costs. Recently, a consultant estimated that curbside recycling would cost the city an additional $13 per month per residence, $82 for commercial customers with a Dumpster and $59 per commercial customer with a cart - a tough sell for residents already facing a budget shortfall.

If Juneau can't afford curbside pickup, a good compromise might be adding satellite recycling centers to several locations, such as downtown, Douglas, Lemon Creek and the Mendenhall Valley. Right now, recycling is only available during limited hours at the dump. Adding a few more drop-off sites would likely encourage more residents to recycle, especially if those sites were made as convenient and easy to use as possible.

According to a 2007 public works presentation, Juneau recycles only 4 percent of its trash. Increasing that number, even a little bit, will help expend the dump's life span.

Connecting with youth

In 2009, the Juneau School District responded to rampant illegal OxyContin use by implementing mandatory drug testing for student athletes. Another response to the drug problem in schools was new Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich's idea to have school staff start wearing red and blue buttons that read "Connect!"

The idea behind these buttons is to form better relationships with students by announcing that adults are there for them. The buttons also represent a change of culture in the school system, one that encourages respect and trust among faculty and students.

It's a simple gesture, but the sentiment behind it is important. Juneau's teenage drug problem and low graduation rate can only be solved by the community as a whole.

Juneau as a whole should resolve to reach out to the city's youth and let them know they care. In 2010, remember to "Connect!"

Encourage new business and tourism

Local businesses provide employment for residents, taxes that pay for much-needed public services, and contribute to the overall economic health of Juneau's community.

When large businesses like Gottschalks and Skinner's Sales and Services close, the ripple effect is felt by everyone, not just the 100 or so employees let go.

Juneau needs to do two things in 2010: Support the businesses we have, and encourage new growth, whether it be supporting startup small businesses or encouraging larger ones to move in.

Juneau's businesses do far more than just provide services and goods. Their volunteerism and philanthropy are what keeps many non-profit organizations afloat, some of which are struggling this year because corporate donations are down.

Residents also must be vigilant in supporting Juneau as a tourism destination. Many of our neighbors rely on summer tourism to get them through the year. Regardless of opinion on the state's head tax, most will agree that Juneau's economic viability has become dependent on the number of visitors who pay top dollar to explore Southeast.

Using head tax money already collected to make port improvements could potentially encourage more cruise ships to visit. Secondly, Juneau must continue to market itself internationally and in the Lower 48. These thing should soften the sting of several large cruise ships pulling out next year. It won't negate the effect altogether, but in time will help make up the difference.

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