City layoffs and service reductions begin the new fiscal year

Juneau has two House districts. Neither Democratic Rep. Beth Kerttula nor Republican Rep. Cathy Muñoz face opposition. But they've still gotten a lot of campaign contributions.

City and Borough of Juneau budget cuts became real this week when the new fiscal year began.

Monday was Ron Schramm’s last day of work as the only code compliance officer for the City and Borough of Juneau. He was responsible for enforcing the city’s building, land use and litter codes. Now, those duties will be split between city planners and building inspectors.

The city began its new fiscal year this week with the equivalent of 12 fewer full-time employees. Schramm was one of several employees the city laid off due to a $6 million deficit. Several more had their hours reduced. Residents may notice some reduced services, programs and staff.

Schramm got a layoff slip in early June, but had seen it coming for several months. During work meetings, he often heard about budgetary issues.

“It was a question of bringing in more revenue and how we can kind of cut down expenses. I know, over the years, the training budget that was available for the code compliance office had been pretty much eliminated,” Schramm says.

At the end of last year, he had a talk with his wife.

“I said, ‘Look, the city is obviously in a hole.’ And I started looking for other work, first within the city, then within the state system. And finally, I decided to start looking out of state. And then, when I got my layoff, I began looking in earnest for other positions here in town,” Schramm says.

Schramm applied for 15 jobs in Juneau, almost all with the State of Alaska. He got six interviews, but no offers.

Schramm says he’s had just as many phone interviews with the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which is where he plans to move later this month. After 17 years in Alaska, 11 of those in Juneau, Schramm will establish residency in Kentucky and continue interviewing for positions.

“And then my family will follow in September because honestly, my wife works for the state, but between that and unemployment, we can’t afford to live here,” Schramm says.

Four other full-time employees were laid off by the city. Juneau doesn’t offer severance packages but employees can cash out leave. The city grants other lay off rights, like getting first claim on a vacant position in their job class for up to two years.

Human resources director Mila Cosgrove says during budget cycles, the city usually trims.

“But when you talk about actual hard layoffs of people, there have been, you know, maybe one or two per fiscal year, but nothing to this level,” Cosgrove says.

Due to city budget cuts, Treadwell Ice Arena will become a 10-month facility with only 8 months of ice time. (Photo by Steve Quinn)

Due to city budget cuts, Treadwell Ice Arena will become a 10-month facility with only 8 months of ice time. (Photo by Steve Quinn)

Three vacant full-time positions disappeared and Cosgrove says many employees lost hours. A position at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum went from full-time to three-quarters. Three employees at Treadwell Ice Arena now work seasonally.

“And we saw similar reductions in parks and rec, public works, Capital Transit,” Cosgrove says.

Parks and Recreation lost one part-time and two full-time employees. The decades old adult basketball program has been eliminated despite its popularity and more than 380 participants.

Director Brent Fischer says these reductions add up to fewer recreational opportunities.

“The services we provide is why we, I believe, why most of us not only live here but stay here. If we eliminate those type of, what I would consider, essential services to the quality of what we do, why live in Juneau anymore?” Fischer says.

As the city looks forward to a $9 million budget deficit next year, Fischer says it’s difficult to have to look at cutting more.

“We’re going to have to look at our service levels and decide at which level we’re going to provide services and what’s important to the community. So this will be a very interesting next year at trying to ask that question and ascertaining from the citizens, ‘What do you value and where do you value those services to be at?’” Fischer says.

Other changes coming up this fiscal year include reduced hours at the downtown library and city museum, modified schedules on Capital Transit, cutting the city’s bear awareness campaign, slower snow plowing in the winter, and the countless other changes that come when a city loses the equivalent of 12 full-time employees.

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