Assembly ignores budget comments on school funding and ice arena

Brendan Sullivan was one of several members of the public to urge against proposed cuts to Treadwell Ice Arena. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

Brendan Sullivan was one of several members of the public urging against proposed cuts to Treadwell Ice Arena. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly approved an almost $309 million operating budget for FY15 that cuts 12 full-time employees, reduces services and doesn’t fund the school district at the highest level.

Several members of the public were upset about potentially losing ice time at Treadwell Ice Arena and turning the full time positions there into 10-month positions.

“When you don’t have employment for two months of the year or you lose your insurance because you’re not a full-time employee, that certainly impacts how you’re able to function and it certainly might make us lose a valuable employee who’s actually got an understanding of not just the figure skating program but also the hockey program,” said Liz Balstad at Monday night’s regular assembly meeting.

The approved budget closes the ice arena for two months starting next summer and imposes the staffing changes. Ice time will be negotiable.

Major cuts to the operating budget come from phasing out 14 city positions, or the equivalent of 12 full-time employees. Aside from cuts to Treadwell, this includes reduced public library and city museum hours, and reduced city bus service.

In previous discussions, the assembly decided to keep the downtown Augustus Brown Swimming Pool open. Mt. Jumbo Gym will stay open for FY15, but be up for discussion the following year.

Assembly member Kate Troll attempted to amend the proposed budget by restoring $52,000 for downtown parking passes for city employees, a budget cut made during an assembly finance committee meeting earlier this month.

“We have employees that work in the valley that get their parking free, employees downtown would be penalized, so we were setting up different classes of employees,” Troll said.

Assembly member Jesse Kiehl said he doesn’t consider employee parking a high budget priority.

“I understand that there are folks who work for our city who are looking at pulling another $600 out of their pockets every year potentially. There are also folks who work for our city who are looking at a pink slip, quite a few of them in fact,” Kiehl said.

Troll’s budget amendment failed, although later in the meeting, the assembly authorized the city manager to continue paying for the employee parking passes if it can be done within the budget.

How did they vote?

Assembly votes on the operating budget, school district budget and mill rate all resulted in a 7 to 2 split.

  • On the ordinance appropriating $308,849,500 for the City and Borough of Juneau’s FY15 operating budget:

7 yays – Jerry Nankervis, Carlton Smith, Kate Troll, Mary Becker, Karen Crane, Loren Jones & Merrill Sanford
2 nays – Jesse Kiehl & Randy Wanamaker

  • On the ordinance appropriating to the school district an FY15 operating budget of $158,373,800, includes local funding of $24,904,400:

7 yays – Jerry Nankervis, Carlton Smith, Mary Becker, Karen Crane, Loren Jones, Jesse Kiehl & Merrill Sanford
2 nays – Kate Troll & Randy Wanamaker

  • On the ordinance adopting a total mill levy of 10.76, 9.26 mills for operations and 1.50 mills for debt service:

7 yays – Carlton Smith, Randy Wanamaker, Mary Becker, Karen Crane, Loren Jones, Jerry Nankervis & Merrill Sanford
2 nays – Kate Troll & Jesse Kiehl

Troll was able to make one budget change – restore $3,500 to the Small Business Development Center.

Aside from cuts to city staff and services, the city will draw more than $2.5 million from the fund balance and reduce the amount of money going to capital improvement projects by about $1 million.

The assembly is giving close to $25 million to the Juneau School District, which is less than the maximum amount allowed by state law. Several members of the public urged the assembly for more funding and Kiehl made a motion to add about $390,000. This, he said, would prevent elementary class sizes from getting any bigger.

“Our class sizes have been rising and they are set to rise again this year at all grade levels, including where student learning is absolutely the most sensitive to class size and that’s in elementary school,” Kiehl said.

A couple assembly members pointed out it’s the assembly’s job to give funding and the school district’s job to decide what to do with it.

Assembly member Randy Wanamaker said the district already had the opportunity to keep class sizes small.

“They’re choosing to buy stuff instead of fully supporting staff and students as their budget task force recommended. So I can’t support this. We have done our duty by this community in terms of education,” he said.

Kiehl’s motion to raise the city’s contribution to schools failed on a 5 to 4 vote with assembly members Karen Crane, Jerry Nankervis, Carlton Smith, Wanamaker and Mayor Merrill Sanford voting no.

The assembly decided to approve a total mill rate of 10.76, which will not bring the city any additional property tax revenue. Originally, the city manager had proposed property tax increases that would have amounted to roughly $2 million, but the assembly nixed it.

Troll said it’s shortsighted to keep the mill levy flat.

“We have done our part on the cut side of the ledger to build us toward a sustainable budget and we have not been willing to look modestly at the revenue side of the ledger, vis-à-vis the mill levy,” Troll said.

In total, the city reduced its budget by $6 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Next year, it plans to cut an additional $9 million.

(Editor’s note: Information on how the assembly voted on different agenda items has been added.)

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