Juneau city manager says he expects service and personnel cuts

The City of Borough of Juneau took questions about job cuts, furloughs and working with labor unions to reduce the city’s deficit on Thursday. (Photo by William Gill/Creative Commons)

Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt says he expects there will be layoffs, furloughs and service reductions coming out of this spring’s budgeting process. 

Watt made the comments over video conference to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at its weekly member event on Thursday. The membership asked a lot of questions about job cuts, furloughs and working with labor unions to reduce the city’s deficit.  

For example, Chamber President Charlie Williams asked if the city is considering layoffs, like other municipalities.

“Yeah. I mean, it’s on — yes. It’s on the table,” Watt replied. “So it’s — you know, if the Assembly came back to me and they said, ‘We want you to cut the general fund by $1 million,’ it would be primarily personnel.” 

Watt said larger-scale cuts would mean eliminating whole programs. He also said while the city is expecting $53 million in federal CARES Act relief money, it’s not yet clear how it can be spent

Furloughs are also a possibility that could be traded off with layoffs. It’s subject to the bargaining process with labor unions. 

“So certainly, internally, we’ve talked about it,” Watt said. “It’s an issue that’s out there. And I think, really likely, we’re probably going to have some workforce reduction, and they have to go together.” 

The city has labor contracts with the unions PSEA representing police, IAFF representing firefighters and MEBA representing general government employees. 

Local government is one of Juneau’s biggest employers. The city, which includes the school district, hospital and airport, budgets for about 1,800 full-time equivalent jobs a year

Watt’s budget proposal to the Juneau Assembly didn’t include any job or service cuts, though it did include a significant property tax increase

“Some people have asked me, why didn’t I put services on the table upfront?” Watt said. “And the reason is, if I put a particular service on the table for a cut, the Assembly would only hear from the proponents of that service. And it would not be considered in the context of, ‘What’s the budget? What can we afford? What do we want to afford? What’s the priority?’ ”

He said he’s thinking about putting together a webinar for the public, to “walk through the devil’s choices” of balancing the budget. 

Last month, the city published this spreadsheet that makes it easy to play with different numbers and assumptions to balance the budget. 

The budget must be finalized by a June 15 deadline. 

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

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