City aims to up fees subhead:Proposed service cuts won't happen

Posted: Thursday, May 18, 2000

Juneau's bus riders will have to spring for an extra quarter per ride this coming fiscal year, permit seekers will pay more for city paperwork, and Parks and Recreation facility users face bigger fees. But city budget cuts will generally be invisible to the person on the street.

City staff and the Juneau Assembly reached a consensus Wednesday night at a Finance Committee meeting called to balance Juneau's checkbook for the next couple of years.

``I think we dodged the bullet,'' said City Manager Dave Palmer, attributing the difference between earlier predictions of a looming fiscal crisis and the nearly business-as-usual budget to his department's conservative approach to budget planning.

Expectations were that the state would cut revenue transfers to cities by 50 percent, and property tax revenues were expected to remain flat, Palmer said.

State cuts actually came to only 11 percent, and the hike in Juneau's property valuations will provide city coffers with more property tax revenues. In addition, nearly $1 million in cruise ship passenger revenues has been directed to the city's general fund.

``We initially went to all the city departments and asked that they consider an 8 percent budget cut,'' Palmer said. ``They came back with 5 percent cuts, and that's been reduced to about 2 percent.''

Total budget cuts for the next two fiscal years are right at $2 million, said city Finance Director Craig Duncan. It will be business as usual for the city, he said. ``The only major caveat we have is if the statewide voter referendum to cap the mill levy at 10 mills passes,'' he said. ``That would mean another $1.5 million in cuts to the city.''

Most applications for city grants will be fully funded, including those for the Youth Activity Program and Social Services Block Grants. Perseverance Theatre and Juneau Arts and Humanities, initially slated for 5 percent cuts, will now get what they asked for.

The Juneau Economic Development Council had been advised early on that its request of $118,800 would be halved. A motion by Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon eased the JEDC's pain by raising the appropriation to $100,000 for fiscal 2001.

``What we did last night was put the budget to rest,'' said Finance Committee Chairman Dwight Perkins. ``Now it's only fine tuning.''

Capital Transit users who feel they will bear much of the brunt of that fine tuning may have a champion in assembly member Frankie Pillifant, who expressed some concern about the proposed fare hike from $1.25 to $1.50. ``(Capital Transit) still tends to be a system used by passengers who have to use it,'' she said.

Assembly member Cathy Munoz also quizzed Public Works Director Ernie Mueller about proposed changes in the fare structure that include introducing a youth fare -- down a quarter from the usual $1.25 -- and ``tightening up'' issuance of passes for the disabled.

The sentiment that this might be the best of all possible budgets was dampened a bit by Mayor Dennis Egan.

``We've eliminated every fund balance that we could find,'' he said, referring to any moneys ``left over'' from previous fiscal periods. ``The little packets of money are gone. So next year it'll really be real.''

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