Audience members listen to Port Director Carl Uchytil present the proposed docks and harbors budget for next year to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s Finance Committee on Wednesday. The public will get an opportunity to comment on the city’s full spending plan at an Assembly meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Audience members listen to Port Director Carl Uchytil present the proposed docks and harbors budget for next year to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s Finance Committee on Wednesday. The public will get an opportunity to comment on the city’s full spending plan at an Assembly meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.(Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

SimCity 2023: Online tool allows people to submit their own spending plans

Assembly to take testimony on the budget on Monday.

Putting together next year’s city budget doesn’t have to be as complex as the bureaucrats and politicians are making it seem. All you have to do is cut street construction/maintenance by 40% or increase the 5% sales tax by 0.4%.

And the “you” in that means, yes, you can make that a reality — virtual reality, at least — using the city’s first online budget simulator, which allows the public to easily adjust spending and revenue as mindfully or mindlessly as desired. The simulator went live on the city’s website two weeks ago and is a tool for people to ponder possibilities before a City and Borough of Juneau Assembly meeting at 7 p.m. Monday devoted to public testimony about the proposed fiscal budget, which must be finalized and approved next month.

But it’s not a free-for-all, so to speak. As in you can’t just zero out the entire “administration” category and use the savings to cut your property taxes by 30% (or eliminate property taxes altogether by wiping out the schools, police and fire department budgets).

Guardrails ensure funding for most categories meets legally required minimums — although it appears there’s no limits on tax hikes. So setting the mill rate for general government services at zero and replacing the revenue with a 600% hotel bed tax works out fine, mathematically speaking.

Just don’t expect the actual budget balancers to take you seriously.

How the simulated budgets will be used in context of the real budgets isn’t yet known, Jeff Rogers, the city’s finance director, said in an email. The simulated budgets are automatically compiled into a survey-type report, which might produce results shared with CBJ Assembly members during a public meeting.

“If we receive enough results to make them meaningful in the aggregate, we will definitely share them with the Assembly Finance Committee,” he wrote. “However, the results will have their limitations. It’s not a statistically significant or accurate survey because respondents are self-selecting into participation, which will skew the result. Additionally, some responses will be more considered than others. Within the boundaries of the tool, there’s nothing that prevents someone from responding with an un-serious submission (like doubling taxes or slashing a critical service, for example).”

About 50 user-created budgets had been submitted as of Monday, Rogers wrote.

Last year, the city provided an online budget tool allowing the public to see how their tax dollars were used for various expenses, paying $4,000 to the Denver-based company Engaged Public for a one-year contract. The tool has an option to turn on budget simulating at no additional cost, which local finance officials chose to implement this year.

This year’s simulator puts users in the same starting position as the CBJ Assembly, with a $3.4 million deficit that adjusts as the plus/minus icons for each revenue/spending category are clicked. Pop-up information windows are available for each line item, so those wondering what the police department gets for the $608,000 proposed for community service programs can learn the following:

“The Community Services Unit (CSU) is responsible for addressing police-related issues that do not require police officers. The CSU handles calls related to parking, abandoned vehicles, garbage enforcement, urban bear attractants, commercial passenger vehicle administration and enforcement, child car seat inspections, woodsmoke enforcement, special event permits, trafic [sic] control, and assisting officers as needed.”

In addition to submitting final spending plans to the city, user-created budgets can be saved in progress and edited by the original user or others via a uniquely created link.

Monday’s public testimony meeting coincides with the first day of this year’s cruise ship season, which was largely the focus of a meeting of the Assembly’s Finance Committee on Wednesday evening, the third in a weekly series reviewing various aspects of the proposed $408 million spending plan.

Presentations for docks and harbors, passenger fee plan, hotel bed tax and Travel Juneau focused on struggles during the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how a return to near normalcy during the coming year may help make up for deficits while allowing for specific personnel and facilities improvements.

Docks and harbors, for example, is projecting $2.28 million in spending and $2.48 million in revenue during the coming fiscal year, a significant increase from $1.6 million in spending and $1.57 million in revenue for the current year. But for those at home tempted to save a bit on taxes by trimming next year’s surplus using the simulator, Juneau Port Director Carl Uchytil noted those funds are being used in part to make up for deficits in the department’s fund balance the past two years.

“Covid was hard on our enterprises,” he told the finance committee. “We will be drawing about $800,000 out from the docks fund balances due to revenue losses.”

Furthermore, the department has been balancing its budget through austerity measures such as leaving staff positions unfilled, Uchytil said.

While those making presentations related to tourism-oriented budget items generally expressed optimism about the coming year, there also remains an immense amount of uncertainty.

“We budgeted for a million passengers this year,” Tourism Manager Alexandra Pierce told the committee. “That may be low. That may be right on. We don’t know.”

• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of May 22, 2022

Here’s what to expect this week.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Supreme Court orders use of interim map for elections

The decision came just over a week before the June 1 filing deadline for the August primaries.

A male red-winged blackbird displays his showy red patches and calls to a rival male (Gina Vose photo)
On the Trails: Birds and beetles at Kingfisher Pond

Something is almost always happening at Kingfisher Pond.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Dozens of containers of infant formula, including some eligible to be purchased with WIC benefits, are on shelves at Foodland IGA on Monday. But many other brands are absent and Brad Folckomer, the store’s assistant director, said while certain brands have generally remained available during a critical nationwide shortage, special types some mothers need are missing and it’s unknown when the situation may improve.
Local infant formula shortages likely to persist

Juneau outlets say limited supplies exist, but many brands absent and donations for needy lacking

Syringes and colorful bandages are prepared as children from local schools prepare to get COVID-19 vaccines in Pittsfield, Mass., on Monday Dec. 13, 2021. Three doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine offer strong protection for children younger than 5, the company announced Monday, May 23, 2022. Pfizer plans to give the data to U.S. regulators later this week in a step toward letting the littlest kids get the shots. (Ben Garver / The Berkshire Eagle)
Pfizer says 3 COVID shots protect children under 5

The company released preliminary results on Monday.

This photo shows the Alaska State Capitol. The Capitol will be the site of a committee hearing next month that will focus on the recent firing of Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. CEO Angela Rodell. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Legislature modernizes definition of consent in sexual assault cases

Change made with unanimous support in Legislature.

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Tuesday, May 24, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Heather Best (in water), a USGS hydrologist, prepares to toss a road-grader blade with a river-measuring device attached into the Yukon River near Eagle, Alaska. USGS hydrologic technician Liz Richards watches for icebergs. (Courtesy Photo / Ned Rozell)
Alaska Science Forum: Wading into the icy Yukon River for science

EAGLE, ALASKA — Snow geese flew in a ragged V overhead, rasping… Continue reading

Most Read