Assembly approves $309 million 2010 budget

Wanamaker will seek cap on property tax

Posted: Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Juneau Assembly approved its $309.3 million operating budget for fiscal year 2010 in an 8-1 vote Monday night.

Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker cast the dissenting vote and explained why after the meeting.

"I believe I didn't work hard enough to reduce our expenses this year," he said.

"It will make it harder for us next year. ... Next year is going to be a very severe test for us," Wanamaker said, alluding to city Finance Director Craig Duncan's forecast of $5 million-plus deficits for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 in the city's core operations budget, a $96 million slice of the budget approved Monday.

The city's fiscal years begin July 1.

The budget approved Monday night includes core city operations - such as police and fire service and roads and maintenance - plus special revenue and enterprise functions that are city-owned but run semi-autonomously with their own boards and managers, such as Eaglecrest Ski Area and Bartlett Regional Hospital.

A companion ordinance establishing the city's property tax rate, or mill levy, for the calendar year passed without objection, though Wanamaker said he will ask the Assembly in the future to revisit a city property tax cap.

"I think the mill rate is not where it can and should be," Wanamaker said, adding that even if mill rates stay flat or decrease, higher property assessments can drive up tax bills.

Assemblyman David Stone, who chairs the Finance Committee where most budget discussions were held, said the budget was the product of weeks of good discussion and tough decisions that included passing on "some extremely worthy projects" in order to stick to then-City Manager Rod Swope's budget recommendations. Swope is on leave until October.

Sara Chambers, one of the Assembly's most fiscally conservative members who often votes with Wanamaker on spending issues, said city departments had been prudent and that this would be her first vote in favor of the city's annual budget since getting elected to the Assembly in 2006.

"The manager's office really put the wheels in motion to be conservative, shift the paradigm. I have never voted for a city budget so far, I think I'm going to vote for this one," she said.

Property taxes are calculated by multiplying two figures: the mill rate set by the Assembly and a property's assessed value, determined each year by the city assessor's office. A mill is a unit of measure that means one one-thousandth; 10 mills is 1 percent.

The mill level most property owners pay is increasing from 10.37 to 10.6 in the new budget year, though on average residential property tax bills will decrease slightly because falling property values will outweigh the effect of the tax increase, Duncan has said.

In other meeting news, the Assembly:

• formally protested beverage dispensary and restaurant license renewals before the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board being sought by Squires Restaurant at 11806 Glacier Highway, Canton House at 8585 Old Dairy Road, The Sandbar at 2525 Industrial Blvd., Tarentinos at 140 Seward Street and Zephyr at 200 Seward Street.

The Assembly's protests are based on the establishments' delinquency in their sales tax payments to the city. Representatives of the establishments had received certified mail notifying them of the delinquency and were not on hand to explain themselves to the Assembly's Human Resources Committee that also met Monday. The full Assembly acted on the committee's recommendations.

• approved an $11.5 million construction contract for the Downtown Transportation Center to Coogan Construction.

• created a local improvement district for extending sewer service in the west Mendenhall Valley area affecting 58 properties.

• authorized the draw down of a $100,000 grant from the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to help pay for emergency management personnel salaries, including avalanche forecasting

• approved a new regulation governing the Juneau Docks and Harbors Board that gives the board authority to charge promotional or special moorage rates at the intermediate vessel float and the small boat harbors and some parking fee increases.

• Contact reporter Jeremy Hsieh at 523-2258 or e-mail

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