Budget, manager search highlight assembly retreat

By October 19, 2011Local Government
For months now, Juneau City Manager Rod Swope has warned that a shrinking tax base, less federal support and a lower return on investments add up to a potential 7.5-million dollar shortfall for the city’s upcoming biennial budget. His projection hasn’t changed.

“The first year we’re figuring probably try to reduce the budget by $5-million, and then the second year we’re anticipating we’ll still have to take further reductions of about $2.5 million,” he says.

Swope’s strategy for dealing with the deficit also hasn’t changed. He told the assembly that vacant positions will be held open as long as possible while city departments look for efficiencies. He’s also asked all department heads to take a two-week furlough before July. But Swope says the assembly will decide if the shortfall warrants cuts to city services.

“My plan was to go ahead and work with the departments to identify those, list them out to indicate what the service currently is, what the proposed reduction would be, and then clearly state what the impact would be to citizens in the community,” he says.

Swope thinks he can give the assembly his list of proposed service cuts by the end of November. Mayor Bruce Botelho says the assembly agrees with that approach.

“His proposed strategy is one that the assembly simply affirmed. It confirmed the direction that he intends to take the city,” Botelho says.

Swope will leave his budget proposal in the hands of the Assembly before he retires on March 31st.

Botelho expects the assembly will hold several meetings to review the hiring process for a new city manager, beginning October 31st at another work session. Swope retired for the first time almost three years ago. But when a nationwide search for his replacement fizzled, the assembly asked him to come back on a two-year contract, which he agreed to do after a six-month hiatus.

The whole assembly will decide whether to do another search for a city manager. But this time around, Botelho supports promoting Deputy Manager Kim Kiefer, who was acting manager during Swope’s sabbatical.

“She is thoroughly familiar with all the issues that are taking place in city government. She is thoroughly familiar with and dedicated to, committed to this community,” says Botelho.

Kiefer did not apply for the city manager’s job when Swope retired the first time, but says now she’s up to the challenge.

“Part of it for me now is that I did do it for six months and I have a better understanding of it. And I’ve got another two years under my belt, so I feel like I’m in a better position,” Kiefer says. “And also I think, from the city’s standpoint, when we’re looking at a 7.5 million dollar deficit, that trying to keep things as stable as we can when we move forward is a good thing for the organization.”

Kiefer has roots in Juneau, having moved to the Capital City in the sixth grade. She attended Auke Bay School and graduated from Juneau Douglas High School in 1977. She returned after college and started working for the city in 1984. She’s been deputy manager since 2006.

If selected as manager, Kiefer says she knows one thing for sure: “It’s definitely a two-person job, because I did both for the six months. Having a deputy city manager and a city manager as that team is really critical.”

At its retreat Tuesday, the assembly also discussed a list of capital projects that could be funded by an extension of the city’s one-percent temporary sales tax. The current extension expires in 2013, and would need to be reauthorized by voters next fall. Botelho says a five-year extension could bring in 35- to 40-million dollars over the life of the tax. The list of projects being considered is about 150-million. The mayor expects it will be pared down between now and next summer, in time for the assembly to approve a ballot proposition to go before voters at the fall municipal election.

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