Federal Relief put Juneau’s budget in the black. What to do with the surplus now?

A group walks in front of Juneau City Hall on Tuesday May 10, 2016 in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Juneau officials have officially begun the city’s budget planning for the fiscal year beginning in July. The starting point for this is reconciling the budget that the Juneau Convention passed last year with what actually happened.

The pandemic has not lent itself to predictable financial planning.

Last year, it planned to spend $5.4 million from savings to help balance the budget. In addition, the Juneau Convention approved approximately $19 million in additional unplanned expenditures over the past 9 months.

And yet, largely because of federal aid, the city is entering the new fiscal cycle with $6.9 million more cash than when it started.

“We have really, really volatile numbers,” Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt said Wednesday before the gathering. “It was very difficult to predict income and expenses. And it feels like everything is a moving target.”

He said there has been inflation, property values ​​have soared and tourism figures are uncertain. In some cases, supply chain disruptions and labor shortages have kept the city from spending money it should have.

For example, $4 million that was earmarked for payroll and other personnel costs was not spent, primarily due to staffing and pandemic-related city facility closures.

“It’s a really unusual budget. It’s really, really unusual,” Watt said. “Let’s acknowledge this uncertainty, let’s not overreact. I think the public appreciates this stable, considered approach to government.”

Watt said restoring pre-pandemic fiscal discipline to the city should be a goal. That is, avoid submitting funding requests outside of the annual budget process.

“Definitely not our previous business practice,” Watt said. “Our previous business practice would have been, ‘Sounds like a great idea. Get in touch with us in April and we will consider this in connection with all our other budget issues.’”

Carole Triem, chair of the congregation’s finance committee, spoke up, “Yes, did you hear that, everyone?” She and the other congregation members laughed. “Make a note of that.”

The committee has budget meetings scheduled for every Wednesday evening through at least May 18.

Although the city had many unplanned expenses, the unplanned revenues were even higher.

“It’s all federal money,” said Jeff Rogers, the city’s treasurer. “Any way you look at it, it’s federal money that makes that difference.”

Specifically, money from the American Rescue Plan Act. Because of the surplus, the congregation resolved last month that it would like to allocate an additional $19.9 million of its treasury to various city projects.

The city manager suggested this list:

  • $6.3 million in seed funding for a new City Hall,
  • $5 million for the city’s affordable housing fund,
  • $3 million to address escalating costs of Augustus Brown Pool renovation,
  • $1.5 million for city government information technology upgrades,
  • $1.3 million to support rising costs for the Teal Street Center project,
  • $1 million for future federal grants,
  • $1 million for related grants for a multi-use trail through the Lemon Creek area,
  • $500,000 for a consultant to begin work on upgrading the Juneau Police Department’s aging radio system, and
  • $250,000 for planning related to the North Douglas Crossing.

The Assembly may make changes to the manager’s list. For example, MP Greg Smith said last month he would consider financial relief, particularly for needy and working-class families.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be expenses. It would be slightly lower revenue and that could be something property tax related or some kind of relief for citizens as well as we see inflationary costs and fuel and gas costs,” he said.

Smith said Friday he was still evaluating options.

The assembly decided to stick to the figure of $19.9 million as the upper limit.


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