City Hall packed by Augustus Brown Swimming Pool supporters last night

Assembly chambers were packed for Monday's hearing on the budget. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Assembly chambers were packed for Monday’s hearing on the budget. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A Delta Airlines vice president has pledged $10,000 to the city and borough of Juneau to help keep the Augustus Brown Swimming Pool open.

Mike Medeiros came to the Juneau Assembly Monday night to thank the city for the hospitality Delta has received as the company gets ready to provide service between Juneau and Seattle next month.

Let us know what we can do to help the community,” Medeiros said. “And I think as a first start, I’d like to just help by saying we’ll do something on the pool.  I’d like to offer a $10,000 donation to help keep the pool open, if that helps.”

The packed city hall chambers erupted in cheers.

“And I’m sure we’ll take you up on the $10,000,” quipped Mayor Merrill Sanford, as the assembly settled in for a long evening of public testimony on the budget, most of it meant to save the pool.

The city is facing a $12 million shortfall over the next two years, having already approved using about $3 million in fund balance to pay for negotiated wage and benefit increases for city workers.

Sales and property tax revenues are expected to be less than projected. The assembly is considering a combination of increased property taxes and fees as well as budget reductions to close the gap.

City Manager Kim Kiefer has proposed temporarily closing the downtown swimming pool, which could save the city about $775,000 over the next two years, and would be an opportunity to assess pool renovation costs.

Kiefer and assembly members have received hundreds of comments on the idea, most against. No one at Monday’s meeting spoke in favor of closing the pool.

Empowered boards

Glacier Swim Club president Steve Brockmann started off the testimony, presenting the assembly with a petition of more than 800 signatures of pool users who want to keep Augustus Brown pool open.

The 250-member swim club shares the downtown pool and Dimond Park Aquatic Center with the general public and school groups.

“We would really like to see an empowered board to run both pools, with a clear mission, a charter, to increase cost recovery and increase efficiencies at these pools,” Brockmann said.

The city’s Aquatic Facilities Advisory Board is also recommending an empowered board. Aquatics board member Rosemary Hagevig, a former member of the Juneau Assembly, said now is the time to create such a board for aquatics.

“My previous experience working with CBJ, with the enterprise and the other empowered boards, is that great things have happened. I think we have some excellent models to work from and I think we’ve got nowhere to go but up here,” she said.

The city has several empowered, or enterprise boards. Created in city charter, the boards operate Eaglecrest Ski Area, the Juneau International Airport, Docks and Harbors, and Bartlett Regional Hospital.

Each board’s authority is laid out in a separate city ordinance.

“The ordinance talks about what the scope of their authority is and then they are authorized to make decisions on behalf of the city within the scope of their authority,” says city attorney Amy Mead.

Proposed revenue increases

Young and old told the assembly Monday night that they would pay increased fees to use the pools. As Wilma Kirkpatrick approached the microphone, Mayor Sanford said, “Good evening, ma’am, how are you?”

“Old,” she replied to a roomful of laughter. Kirkpatrick said Augustus Brown pool is the only public exercise facility in downtown Juneau for senior citizens.

“The city has provided ball fields, soccer fields, ice rink, Eaglecrest, track and field, which are great, but not for the elderly,” she said. “So please don’t take the one place we have in the downtown area to keep us all going.”

Increased property taxes are on the assembly’s list of options for balancing the budget.  The proposal calls for a .44 mill rate increase, with a total mill rate of 11.20. If approved, property taxes would go up 44 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value, or $44 for every $100,000 of value.

Juneau Chamber of Commerce members called raising taxes a poor budget strategy. In a recent poll, chamber members voted two to one against the proposed tax increase, according to Lorene Palmer, chair of the chamber’s Government Affairs Committee. She said about 20 percent of  chamber members responded to the poll, and made comments.

“The main themes running through these comments were that the city needs to reduce its operating costs, prioritize services, reorganize departments to gain operational efficiencies, and establish long-term budget forecasting,” Palmer said.

Chamber president-elect Lance Stevens said the city is on an “unsustainable financial path.”

But many Juneau residents at the hearing said they would be willing to pay increased taxes for such programs and services as the swimming pool.

The city budget and mill rate increase are now before the Assembly Finance Committee. The city must adopt the budget by June 15.

NOTE: Updated with additional information on enterprise boards.