State’s budget nibbles start to bite into CBJ

Nobody is calling their lawmaker to complain about the loss of municipal airport matching funds.

In the debates about declining oil revenue and the state’s $3.5 billion gap between revenue and expenses, talk has focused on the big picture — the taxes and spending cuts needed to balance the budget.

It’s in the little picture, however, that some of the first impacts of budget work are being seen.

On Tuesday, City and Borough of Juneau Finance Director Bob Bartholomew explained to the CBJ Assembly that small cuts at the state level are already having big impacts at the local level.

Take those airport matching funds.

On most airport projects, the federal government foots the bulk of the bill. The Federal Aviation Administration pays 93.75 percent of the cost. It’s up to the airport owner to pay the rest.

Most of Alaska’s airports are owned by the state. Juneau’s airport is an exception: It’s owned by the CBJ. For almost the past 20 years, the state has split the cost of Juneau airport projects with the CBJ. Each paid 3.125 percent.

In October, the state said it would stop paying. Starting this summer, with the 2017 fiscal year, it’ll be up to Juneau to pay the entire remaining 6.25 percent.

That number sounds small, but it means a great deal. Airport projects are expensive. Resurfacing the taxiway at the Juneau airport — something expected in 2018 — will cost between $15 million and $25 million.

Without state help, the CBJ will be forced to pay as much as $1.56 million instead of a figure half that size.

“People don’t understand that there has traditionally been this state piece that’s been a state match,” said airport manager Patricia de LaBruere.

Each year, Bartholomew said, the lack of state help will cost the CBJ between $200,000 and $500,000 on average.

Manager de LaBruere said the airport — operated separately from the CBJ’s general fund — will try to recoup those costs with passenger fees and other means.

The same can’t be said for the CBJ’s schools.

Last year, the Alaska Legislature passed a measure that created a five-year hiatus in the state program that shares school construction and remodeling costs with cities and boroughs.

Until the hiatus, the state would pay 60 to 70 percent of the cost of a new school or a significant remodeling project.

David Means, administrative services director of the Juneau School District, said the hiatus “stopped the major renovation of two buildings. In particular, it stopped the major renovation of Marie Drake.”

That $20 million project had been expected to accommodate the Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School and Montessori Borealis school, which already uses the building.

Now, that effort is postponed, and the CBJ is paying out of pocket for maintenance projects. In the current fiscal year, the city allocated $800,000 for those projects. Next year, Bartholomew is planning on $650,000 or so.

Before the state hiatus, that kind of spending would have bought millions in work. Now, it’ll just buy what it says on the bill.

Means said the five-year hiatus didn’t eliminate the need for maintenance: It just pushed the issue down the road, to 2020 or 2021, when voters will be asked to approve school bonds again.

The CBJ is expecting more small but significant hits to its budget from this legislative session. Bartholomew said there’s been some talk of increasing the amount the CBJ must pay into its retirement system — “I personally think that’s unlikely,” he said — and increasing the amount the CBJ must pay the state for sending violators of CBJ ordinances to prison.

Bartholomew said the CBJ can handle smaller impacts on its budget if they come slowly or one by one.

“I think the real issue is that we can handle the individual ones, but if there’s a series or a combination of two, three, four … that’s when you would have to react quickly,” he said.

A big change would force that same quick reaction, he said. The governor’s budget proposal calls for capping the Permanent Fund Dividend at $1,000 per person. For the CBJ’s sales tax revenue, the difference between a $2,000 Dividend — something expected this year if no changes are made — and a $1,000 dividend is $1 million in revenue.

“That’s a different level of adjustment,” he said.

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