Juneau's property tax mill rate and most services will stay the same next fiscal year under a draft budget presented to the Juneau Assembly on Thursday.
The mill rate and most services would be the same as in the current year, except for three new Police Department positions, City Manager Dave Palmer said. The proposed budget adds a community service officer to deal with bears and two police dispatchers to consolidate and improve emergency communications citywide, he said.
The draft document is "a basic hold-the-line" balanced budget, Palmer said. It covers the next two fiscal years and must be finished by June 15.
Assembly members started budget discussions Thursday. Over the next two months, they will meet weekly to analyze the $174 million budget in detail and hear funding requests from city departments and nonprofit groups.
The property tax rate would be the same as this year, 11.47 mills, although the amount of property taxes Juneau residents pay could change. Property taxes are a combination of assessed values and the mill levy, city Finance Director Craig Duncan said.
"It varies by property. Some properties may see a decline and some may see an increase," he said.
Assessed values are expected to increase 2.4 percent in fiscal year 2003, which begins July 1, Duncan said. The city assessor's office has received 255 real-property assessment appeals, down from about 300 last year. The vast majority will be resolved by the assessor's office and won't be heard by the Board of Equalization, Duncan said.
The draft budget absorbs $1.7 million in insurance increases, along with negotiated wage increases and a likely increase in the Public Employees Retirement System contribution rate, Palmer said.
Sales tax revenues are expected to increase approximately 2 percent in fiscal year 2003. The budget carries over $1.9 million from fiscal year 2001, the result of excess interest earnings and departments holding the line on spending, Palmer said.
The budget doesn't put funds in the city's rainy day account in fiscal year 2003, and would withdraw an estimated $275,000 from the account in fiscal year 2004, Palmer said.
In each of the past three years, the Assembly has put about $1 million into the city's reserves. Started in fiscal year 1993, the rainy day account holds about $8 million.
Deputy Mayor Ken Koelsch said the Assembly has had a standing goal to build the reserves to $10 million. The rainy day account likely will be used to pay for polls and a campaign manager in the fight against a legislative move ballot measure, he said.
Whether the city draws from reserves in fiscal year 2004 is a decision the Assembly will have to make, Palmer said.
"That's where the policy debate gets to be fun," he told the Assembly. "The budget is a compromise. You can put money into the fund by decreasing services or increasing taxes, although you don't really want to increase taxes to put money in the reserve. ... It's really your call."
School district funding likely will be another hot topic. The city's budget would provide the maximum amount of local funding under state-mandated caps, about $18 million a year. The district has asked for another $1.5 million over two years to pay for non-instructional costs such as community schools, kindergarten transportation and debt from a retirement incentive program.
City departments, including the school district, have asked for $3.3 million in budget increases and almost 15 new positions over two years. Those requests were not included in the draft budget and will be considered item-by-item by the Assembly. In one example, Centennial Hall has asked for $300,000 for an emergency generator, Palmer said.
State funding is another unknown. The budget assumes the city will get the same amount of state funding as it received last fiscal year, although a proposed statewide sales tax or community dividend program could change things, Palmer said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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