City expenses get thorough review

Details of every city department’s finances were laid out on 93 cards

For the second week in a row, the Assembly Finance Committee slogged through the city’s budget Wednesday, this time taking a detailed look at expenditures.

The city’s finances are on an unsustainable path according to a report from the Finance Department. While there’s no danger of city going bankrupt, city spending outweighs its revenue so the city has decided to tackle that situation proactively.

Last week, the Finance Committee was walked through the various revenue sources by Finance Director Jeff Rodgers, who told the Assembly members that balancing the city’s budget would require some “tough decisions.”

On Wednesday, Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove walked the committee through each of the city’s departments, with expenses broken down onto 93 separate cards.

The cards contained a wealth of information, giving Assembly members a blow-by-blow account of each of department’s costs. How many full-time employees, what are the expenditures, how much of the costs are recovered each year? Is demand for that department going up or down? Who are the department’s main users (residents or city staff) and what have the costs been over the past five years? All questions answered by the cards compiled by city staff.

Assembly member Loren Jones was the main interlocutor of the evening, bringing his experience to wade through the city’s budget.

“In FY20, I would say there’s no grant dollars, because you don’t list any non-GF funds,” Jones said at one point, answering a question posed to Cosgrove by one of the Assembly members.

Most of the Assembly was quiet for most of the meeting as a massive amount of data was laid out before them. Assembly member-elect Greg Smith joined the meeting by phone from Israel, where it was 4:30 in the morning.

“There’s 93 cards here,” Cosgrove told the committee. “I’ll give you a walk-through of each of the cards, we do have many of the program managers here in the audience but we can collect questions and respond back to any detailed questions you have.”

Cosgrove moved through each card fairly quickly, spending about a minute on each card and taking questions as needed from the committee. Occasionally Rogers or a department manager stepped in to answer a question but Cosgrove was the star of the show.

Cosgrove and her staff labeled each of the departments as essential, discretionary or mandatory, as well as a few other categories to let Assembly members know which city services were most critical, should cuts need to be made.

There are certain city services that are mandated by state or federal laws, such as the school district or fire inspections. But Cosgrove noted that there is sometimes overlap between a discretionary department and mandatory requirements for that department.

“You are not required to provide a transit program,” Cosgrove said. “But if you do, a para-transit program is mandated,” she said, referring to a transit accessibility for disabled persons.

The detailed examination of city finances is part of the Assembly’s desire to tackle the budget before the city hits a financially precarious situation.

According to projections from the city Finance Department at current revenue/expenditure levels, the city’s general fund balance will be reduced to $5 million by Fiscal Year 2022. That amount is the minimum the Finance Department considers “fiscally sound.”

Wednesday’s meeting was the second in a series of six intensive Finance Committee meetings meant to give the Assembly a better understanding of the city’s fiscal situation.

“The Assembly would likely need to make adjustments on both the expenditure and revenue,” Rogers told the Assembly at the Oct 2 meeting. “We’ve worked to give you a view to work through what will be challenging.”

Both reports on city revenue and expenditure are available from the city’s website.


• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.


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