New committee heads see changes

Budget surplus, tourism among top assembly priorities

Posted: Sunday, November 12, 2000

Newly appointed Juneau Assembly Finance Committee Chairwoman Cathy Munoz anticipates the next budget cycle to be considerably less gloomy than the last one.

At the start of the last cycle, city staff and assembly members expected $4 million annual shortfalls. Current expectations for the city of approximately $750,000 in federal timber receipts, $550,000 in payments in lieu of taxes, and about $280,000 in receipts from growth in sales tax collections all point to a surplus, she said.

Where that money goes will be among her committee's first considerations in January, when budget deliberations begin, Munoz said. "Will it be the 'rainy-day fund' or savings on property taxes or re-implementation of services (cut in the last budget go-around)? Or will we put some money aside for potential bargaining issues for city employees?"

The Finance Committee also will consider the Mayor's Fiscal Task Force's long-term recommendations, formulated during the last budget cycle.

And Munoz hopes to collect the half-million dollars owed the city by pull-tab operators who were found to be delinquent in their sales tax payments. "That is a personal gripe of mine," she said.

The Finance Committee is one of four of the Juneau Assembly's six standing committees to acquire new leaders after the Oct. 3 election.

Mayor Sally Smith appointed the assembly members to five of the chairmanships: Munoz to Finance; Jim Powell to the Planning and Policy Committee; Don Etheridge Jr. to Human Resources; and newly elected member Marc Wheeler to the Lands and Resources Committee.

Ken Koelsch, re-elected to his second term on the assembly, will continue as chairman of the Public Works Committee.

The Committee of the Whole, the assembly working group that comprises all members, traditionally is headed by the deputy mayor. Member John MacKinnon continues as chairman of that committee after re-election to the deputy mayor's position by fellow assembly members.

"The mayor parceled out the positions according to the members' requests and with seniority in mind," MacKinnon said Friday. "And now there's a fairly good balance of philosophies."

His committee is there to prepare and streamline issues for the assembly, he said. The committee's deliberations are less formal than those of the assembly, and allow members "to work out the bugs and language correctly - important because amendments on the floor can cause problems."

A difference between the Committee of the Whole and other committees is that the former typically doesn't admit public testimony, MacKinnon said.

The Planning and Policy Committee will be "very focused on one thing: getting a tourism plan done," said PPC Chairman Jim Powell. "We've been talking about it and studying it to death - that's why I asked for the chair."

Elements of the plan will include transportation, land use, air and water quality and community values, Powell said. "And we'll be using data from our noise study, the mediated sessions, and from city department heads."

Powell also plans to conduct surveys of public opinion and to hold public hearings, he said.

Another priority for Powell is getting the Savikko Park ice rink built for less than $2 million.

Etheridge, the Human Resources Committee's new chairman, is focused on appointing Juneau residents to the city's commissions and boards. The committee also reviews the city's liquor licenses to make sure buildings are up to code and taxes are paid.

A concern of the committee is that there aren't enough volunteers to populate all the city's panels. To that end, the committee is increasing its advertising efforts, Etheridge said.

Wheeler, the new Lands and Resources Committee chairman, will focus on "increased recreational opportunities in Juneau, with more parks and trails, neighborhood parks for kids, and an indoor shooting range," he said.

He also will address land and housing issues, especially development near Lena Point and the Auke Lake bypass area.

Lemon Creek air quality is also a consideration.

"There are obviously some emissions from the municipal waste incinerator," Wheeler said. "I want to make sure the facility is up to snuff."

Waste incineration produces dioxins, a potent carcinogen, he said.



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