CBJ Finance Director Bob Bartholomew speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday, May 23, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

CBJ Finance Director Bob Bartholomew speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday, May 23, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Making cents of the city’s finances

Manager makes the case for moving City Hall, too

When City and Borough Finance Director Bob Bartholomew retires in a couple of months, he says he will be leaving the city in a relatively strong financial situation.

Bartholomew spoke as part of a double-billed presentation with City Manager Rorie Watt spoke Thursday at the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon. The finance director said despite uncertainties of how decisions made by the Legislature will impact the city, doom and gloom do not appear to be on the horizon.

“Our current financial situation is we’re stable, and some would say strong,” Bartholomew said.

He said the city’s has a “restricted” reserve — a fund established by the resolution that the Assembly must have a plan to repay — balance of $16.2 million. It was $15.8 in 2018, $14.8 million in 2017, $13.4 million in 2016.

“It’s at a level that we’re comfortable it’s what we need for this size of community,” Bartholomew said.

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There is also about that much present in the available savings fund balance. It’s projected to be at $16.2 million at the end of fiscal year 2019 and at $14.8 million in the next fiscal year.

That’s because the budget recommended to the Assembly by the finance committee proposes spending some of those savings on services and projects.

“We’re at a point where expenditures are growing faster than reserves,” Bartholomew said.

That coupled with uncertainty about how decisions at the state level could impact the city means that while Bartholomew said financial matters are currently fine, over the next three years, the Assembly may want to take action to even up the amount of money coming in with the amount being spent.

That sort of decision making would have an effect on the subject of Watt’s presentation.

He spoke about the possibility of moving City Hall to the top two floors of an existing parking garage on Main Street. The idea was previously discussed at an April 29 Committee of the Whole meeting.

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Watt acknowledged there are some drawbacks to considering a project that has an estimated $26.7 million price tag amid expenditure concerns.

However, Watt said there likely isn’t a perfect time to have the discussion.

“Is there ever a right time?” he asked. “Is there ever a wrong time?”

CBJ City Manager Rorie Watt speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday, May 23, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

CBJ City Manager Rorie Watt speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Moose Lodge on Thursday, May 23, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Watt emphasized that a new location for city hall has not been decided, but he is attempting to persuade folks a headquarters for municipal government is needed.

“I’m trying to convince you that what we’re doing now doesn’t make sense,” Watt said. “I’m trying to convince you that we should put some time into this.”

He sad the city spends $750,000 each year on renting four properties downtown and offices in different buildings present obstacles to communicating and collaboration among departments.

“It’s not efficient what we do,” Watt said.

If City Hall did move to the parking garage, Watt said an additional 60 parking spaces could be added to the transit center for about $3.3 million.

He also addressed some alternative ideas that have been raised since the idea was publicly discussed, and why he advocates for building a new City Hall.

Watt said there are important symbolic reasons for the city maintaining its presence downtown and the former site of Walmart is two or three times larger than what the city needs and require significant renovations to suit the city’s needs.

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He said building something downtown would likely cost as much as building on top of the parking garage and estimated a project on flat land would cost about $28 million. The cost of adding parking and building a foundation — a step not necessary if the parking garage option is chosen —are part of that sum.

Watt said to pay for the cost of building a new City Hall, he would propose issuing general obligation bonds, which would incur new debt for the city and require a municipal vote.

He shared projections that showed the city would be expected to pay off the cost of the building in 30 years, and while he allowed that’s a long time, he expects the city to be around for a long time afterward.

“When you plan to be in business forever, you should own your own building,” Watt said.

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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