City will close budget gap with cuts, not taxes

From left, City Manager Helen Howarth and Councilman David Glasen at a city council work session. (Nov. 4, 2020) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

The city aims to close a budget gap of over $1 million without raising taxes. This budget shortfall for 2021 was created principally by the withdrawal of state contribution toward school bond debt reimbursement, and by a projected drop in raw fish tax revenue after a weak fishing season.

“The city is not looking to the public to make up this gap — we’re looking to ourselves,” City Manager Helen Howarth said.

The budget gap is “a fairly large nut to crack,” Finance Director Ken Fay told Cordova City Council at a Wednesday, Nov. 4 work session. Fay presented the council with a series of possible options for reducing the gap without creating new taxes. These options ranged from dipping into the city’s permanent fund to delaying miscellaneous expenditures, such as the $7,500 installation of a new sliding door in the Cordova Center.

“I don’t think we can afford to ask the citizenry to cough up funding when everybody’s in a hole right now from COVID, but I don’t want to go in and slash the budget for the sake of slashing the budget,” Councilman Jeff Guard said.

Howarth supported putting the city’s state lobbyist on a year-long hiatus, saving $50,000. Howarth said that her connections in Juneau would allow Cordova to go without a lobbyist for a year without making a negative impact.

Another cost-cutting measure proposed was a 2-5 percent reduction of city non-personnel costs, saving $30,000-$80,000. Department heads would decide what cuts would be made. However, Councilman David Allison cautioned that department cuts should be presented to the council to make certain that no legally required budget items were inadvertently eliminated.

Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding could also be used to cover some budgeted expenses related to emergency management and first responders.

“I appreciate the fact that you didn’t come up here and say we’ll have to raise a tax,” Councilman Tom Bailer said. “I do appreciate the fact that you’re trying to work this through without putting any more burden on anybody, because we did that last year.”

A detailed draft budget should be prepared for the council in time for its next work session, Howarth said.