Juneau city manager proposes axing 9 positions, temporarily closing downtown pool to cut costs

The JDHS swim team practices at Augustus Brown Swimming Pool, Aug. 19, 2015.
The JDHS swim team practices at Augustus Brown Swimming Pool, Aug. 19, 2015.  Juneau’s City Manager is recommending temporarily closing the pool to cut costs. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt is proposing eliminating nine full-time local government positions and temporarily closing Augustus Brown Pool to help with the budget deficit.

“We’ve been trying to manage the staff and holding positions vacant and trying to figure out how to organize the workforce. I’m not going to tell you that we can keep doing everything that we’ve been doing. But we can restrict our activities and it will have an affect on the organization,” Watt said during a Wednesday Juneau Assembly Finance Committee meeting.

He called the cuts responsible, but difficult decisions. Eliminating the positions and reducing staff travel, training and putting off a long-term city planning effort would save about $2.1 million.

“Every job that we have at the city, people do useful things, and if we restrict employment, we’re gonna have fewer people doing helpful things,” he said. “But I am representing that we can keep the organization going. You have a big problem to solve.”

Watt said the proposed cuts are mainly in vacant positions. Some people’s jobs would change. One person would lose their job.  That person is John Young. He works in building inspections.  Reached by phone Thursday, he said it may be time for him to retire anyway, but otherwise declined to comment.

Watt said several of the positions he flagged correspond to smaller workloads from a slump in construction and development.

Wade Bryson has been the most vocal Assembly member about the need to cut. He fears the state government’s pre-pandemic fiscal crisis will eventually hit city government. For example, he thinks state funding of local schools could be slashed. He said extreme changes need to be made.

“As soon as we burn through the CARES money and it’s gone, we’re gonna be looking at a severely reduced budget,” he said. “We’re still afraid to cut anything right now. This $2 million in jobs? Bam, done and gone. That’s how harsh we have to be with these cuts.  … I’m just really afraid we’re not making harsh enough cuts; they’re gonna be forced upon us in the future.”

There’s still a lot of uncertainty about how and when federal CARES Act relief money for Juneau can be spent. City officials know they can’t use it to replace lost revenue. But they began this budget-planning cycle with assumptions that the pandemic and state funding cuts would cause huge deficits.

The city has about $35 million in savings. At current spending levels, they could burn through that in about two years.

The committee didn’t act on Watt’s recommendations. Its work on the city budget continues next week. The committee did tee up the budgets of the school district, airport, docks, harbors and Eaglecrest Ski Area for Assembly action at its regular meeting on May 18.

 

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