Juneau Assembly could tap capital projects to address shortfall

Juneau Assembly

The Juneau Assembly listens to City Manager Kim Kiefer deliver an overview of her two-year budget proposal at a finance committee meeting on April 2, 2014. The assembly is looking to tap capital projects to make up a nearly $12 million budget shortfall. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly may use money currently earmarked for capital projects to address a multi-million dollar budget shortfall over the next two years.

For more than 30 years, Juneau voters have approved setting aside 1 percent of the city’s 5 percent sales tax for capital projects like new libraries, swimming pools, and infrastructure.

At a finance committee meeting last week, Assemblywoman Kate Troll requested a list of projects that could be put on hold next year with the least amount of disruption to fully fund the Juneau School District.

“I’m not interested in trying to reign in horses, projects that are already out to bid, and bring those horses back in. I’m not interested in that,” Troll said.

Other assembly members want to keep the doors open at Augustus Brown Swimming Pool, which would be mothballed under City Manager Kim Kiefer’s proposed budget.

Overall, the assembly asked for a list of projects that could be deferred or scaled back to free up about $850,000 next fiscal year.

A portion of sales tax outside the 1 percent is also dedicated to the city’s capital budget. That’s the money the assembly would like to tap for the projected deficit. Engineering Director Rorie Watt says the proposed budget includes about 20 projects worth an estimated $8.6 million that are not funded by the voter-approved 1 percent tax.

“They’re basically facility maintenance and road and utility maintenance,” Watt said.

While he’s making a list of the projects most feasible to delay or downsize, Watt has a word of caution for the assembly.

Using capital money, it’s a one-year fix,” he said. “So if we’re talking about operating cost problems that are going to recur every year, the sustainable fixes are things like increased property taxes, or increased user fees, or enduring ways to get more money.”

Not all assembly members are in favor of using capital project funds to pay for city operations. Mayor Merrill Sanford said construction workers rely on city projects to make a living, and Assemblyman Randy Wanamaker said he’s wary of putting off too many projects.

“There are things that simply can’t wait any longer for repairs, upgrades and maintenance,” Wanamaker said.

The city has other options for reducing its budget shortfall, including nearly $20 million in savings. In the long-term, some assembly members want to look for new ways of raising revenue, such as a seasonal sales tax or elimination of certain tax exemptions.

The assembly finance committee holds another meeting on the manager’s proposed budget on Wednesday. On the agenda are presentations from the Juneau Affordable Housing Commission, the Juneau Economic Development Council, Eaglecrest Ski Area and the Juneau Airport.

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