City balances budget without sales tax hike

Howarth: All departments are coming in under budget

The Cordova Center. (Dec. 23, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
The Cordova Center. (Dec. 23, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

City Manager Helen Howarth has compared balancing a budget to solving a Rubik’s Cube. It would seem that, after several weeks of twisting and turning, the cube has at last been solved. At a Dec. 18 meeting, the Cordova City Council unanimously approved a balanced operating and capital budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

Drafting the budget, Howarth had to contend with an $800,000 gap in funding caused mainly by state budget cuts. At the meeting, Howarth, thanked the city’s administrative workers for helping to assemble a budget that cut costs without sacrificing vital services.

“Everyone contributed and everyone understands their numbers, so I feel confident you’re not going to see a lot of budget amendments,” Howarth told the council. “This is a budget that’s realistic, that will cover our expenses, and our goal is to make sure we end this year saving some money on this. We won’t be saving money because we didn’t do necessary services, and we’re not going to be looking bad because we spent more than we said we were going to.”

Every city department is currently coming in under budget, Howarth said, promising to have a more detailed breakdown available at the council’s Jan. 15 meeting.

The city has supplemented its revenue by passing a 6 percent surtax on tobacco, alcohol and marijuana products. However, a proposed sales tax increase — either seasonal or constant throughout the year — was summarily rejected by the council as unnecessary.

“The budget’s balanced without it, so… I think we’re good,” Councilman David Allison said.

The proposed state budget for the 2020 fiscal year released by the governor’s office shows no additional cuts, continuing the status quo, according to a city report. An effort to override a $5.5 million cut to the Alaska Marine Highway System budget is planned for the first week of the Alaska Legislature’s upcoming session, which commences Jan. 21, Howarth said.

Councilman Tom Bailer said he hoped that further major readjustments wouldn’t be necessary when the city moved from its 2020 fiscal year into 2021. Bailer also said he wanted to find a skilled finance director to assist Howarth.

“We’re within spitting distance of what we want,” Howarth said.