Juneau City Hall on Monday, March 30, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Juneau City Hall on Monday, March 30, 2020. (Peter Segall | Juneau Empire)

Economic task force decides to take its time

Scope of crisis needs more study

Juneau’s newly appointed Economic Stabilization Task Force began wading into how to manage an economic crisis.

Thursday, the task force created by Mayor Beth Weldon to help address financial challenges created by COVID-19 held its first meeting.

“We’re trying to look forward to a point where we’re not hunkering down,” Weldon said.“When the business community can safely, slowly start bringing businesses back online.”

[City and Borough of Juneau creates task force to address virus’ economic fallout]

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly had requested the task force present recommendations at its next meeting. The task force members felt they needed more time to understand the scope and breadth of what the city was actually facing.

The task force decided it would create a subcommittee for additional research and present recommendations to the Assembly in two weeks.

Federal, state and local governments have created a number of programs to help people during the economic downturn. For example, both the state and CBJ passed emergency resolutions that said tenants can’t be evicted for not being able to pay rent.

Members were faced with the challenge of determining how that program would actually work in terms of verification and how to manage the massive back payments tenants will owe once the crisis is over.

On the task force are former mayors Bruce Botelho and Ken Koelsch, True North Financial Credit Union CEO Lauren MacVey, Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska CFO Theresa Belton, Red Dog Saloon owner Eric Frost, Terra Peters of Flying Squirrel and Laura Martinson of Caribou Crossing.

The task force is chaired by Max Mertz, a professional accountant and Linda Thomas of Alaskan Brewing Co.

City Finance Director Jeff Rogers gave the task force a rundown of Juneau’s financial situation, which for today, he said, was in good shape.

“CBJ has a lot of cash in the bank, today,” Rogers said. “Past assemblies have been good about increasing the rainy day fund.”

But revenue projections for the next several years showed negative returns.

“The budget for this summer assumes there is no cruise ship season,” Rogers said, which is going to affect the city’s revenue from head and sales taxes.

Frost said he had been in contact with the Department of Health and Social Services about exemptions to certain health mandates for some small businesses such as dog groomers.

Because of the broad scope of the crisis, task force members decided it would be best to come back in two weeks when “we have a better sense of the waterfront,” Botelho said.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.

Information on the coronavirus is available from websites for the City and Borough of Juneau, the State of Alaska at coronavirus.alaska.gov and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People with flu-like symptoms are encouraged to contact their health care provider.

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