Assembly hears public comments on proposed mill levy increase, FY14 budgets

CBJ Budget

City Manager listens to public testimony during the first hearing on the City and Borough of Juneau’s proposed Fiscal Year 2014 budget revisions. Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO.

Juneau residents sent the CBJ Assembly a clear message Monday night: Do not roll back property taxes if it would mean cuts to city services.

In the first public hearing on proposed revisions to city and borough’s fiscal year 2014 budget, nearly a dozen people testified that a small property tax increase is worth it to maintain about a million dollars in spending.

Last year the Assembly authorized the increase of .23 mills to the city’s operating mill rate to cover an expected budget shortfall. But now some members want to see that overturned. The Assembly Finance Committee asked City Manager Kim Kiefer for a list of potential budget reductions if the operating mill rate stays the same.

Among the items on the chopping block is money for firefighter training and an administrative position at Capital City Fire and Rescue. Firefighter Roy Johnston testified on behalf of the International Association of Firefighters Local 4303.

“Juneau career firefighters – 40 men and women – are opposed to the proposed cuts to the fire department,” Johnston said. “Two full time positions, funding for emergency services classes – these cuts will have a negative effect on public safety.”

Others spoke against cuts to youth activity grants and scholarships. Discovery Southeast Executive Director Beth Weigel called the list of potential reductions “alarming.”

“In about a month here, the schools are going to be out, and many organizations like my own have been planning summer programs for youth,” Weigel said. “And parents have been counting on the fact that we’ll have these sort of programs. So, this is going to leave a lot of parents at a loss for childcare, and as you know our community is already at a deficit for childcare.”

None of the testifiers spoke in favor of reversing the proposed mill rate increase. However, some urged the Assembly to take a look at the city’s assessment practices, saying that unexplained increases in a property’s assessed value is more concerning than a small increase in the mill levy.

The proposed FY14 mill rate of 10.89 mills was among four budget related ordinances up for public hearing on Monday. All four were referred back to the Assembly Finance Committee for further consideration. The Assembly has until June 15th to adopt the final budget.

Manager Evaluation Process Chosen

The Juneau Assembly will do an in-house evaluation of City Manager Kim Kiefer’s performance during her first year on the job.

The Assembly had been considering an outside, third-party evaluation. But members voted 6 to 3 last night (Monday) to do an internal review led by Mayor Merrill Sanford.

The third-party evaluation could have cost the city up to $20,000 dollars, and Sanford said that was a factor in his decision to support keeping the process in-house. Other members noted that the city’s Human Resources Department could help the Assembly set up a review similar to that used by an outside company.

Assembly members Randy Wanamaker, Carlton Smith and Jerry Nankervis voted against the internal review. Wanamaker said the manager is essentially the CEO of a $320 million dollar company, and her performance deserves more scrutiny.

Kiefer has been City Manager for a little more than a year. She previously served seven years as Deputy City Manager and was Acting Manager for six months in 2009.

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