City sustainability fund to be nixed?

Question to go before Assembly on April 27

Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009

City Manager Rod Swope intends to ask the Juneau Assembly to undo a plan it approved in February seeding the Juneau Commission on Sustainability with $2 million over 10 years.

The move would return the $2 million to a reserve fund, better positioning the city for major deficit years forecast in 2011 and 2012, Swope said.

"My intent is to build it up as much as we can, I think we're going to have to draw down on it," he said. Swope noted that the Assembly has the discretion to reject, accept or take a middle road on his suggestion.

City Finance Director Craig Duncan described the future shortfall in the city's core operating budget as "an $11 million hole" when he spoke during a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday. Key assumptions in the forecast include falling or stagnant revenue from sales and property taxes.

Bob Doll, an Assembly member who also sits on the Sustainability Commission, said there may be an opportunity to address the city's need to address future deficits while serving the commission's mission.

"Certainly, putting it back in the sales tax reserve makes good sense. At the same time, we have opportunities to reduce the costs of CBJ's energy consumption for the future. Those need to be given equally serious consideration because they will help us in difficult times to come," Doll said.

Swope's suggestion follows the city's securing of a $1.5 million grant from the Alaska Energy Authority for a ground-source heat pump at the future Dimond Park Aquatic Center and the winning construction bid for the project coming in $3.6 million below estimates.

The plan the Assembly approved in February prior to those developments committed $2 million out of reserves for the heat pump. Energy savings from the investment would flow back to a sustainability fund, seeding the Sustainability Commission, created in 2007 to advance a green agenda, with some financial resources.

Commission Chairwoman Sandy Boyce wasn't aware of the potential reversal.

"Of course, the commission has been anxious to get in a position to help the city out, beyond just providing recommendations," he said.

Swope's suggested action is expected to go before the Assembly at its April 27 meeting.

Aside from the $2 million, Doll said the commission has other opportunities to weigh in on city spending in the name of sustainability. He said the city recently became eligible for $131,400 in federal stimulus money specifically for making government buildings more energy efficient. The commission is in the process of evaluating potential projects for it, Doll said.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail jeremy.hsieh@juneauempire.com.



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