As state officials decide where to make cuts in the face of a major budget deficit, Wrangell officials are trying to figure out how to cope with a drop in state funding.
Wrangell Borough Assembly members discussed the looming budget cuts Tuesday at the assembly’s regular meeting.
Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch delivered what he called “a bleak message.”
“With the price of oil where it’s at, the state of Alaska is whacking and chopping. And municipalities receive a fair amount of money from the state in several different programs, and we are going to suffer because of that, along with all the other cities in Alaska,” Jabusch said.
Jabusch said the borough is not planning to raise taxes, so local officials are considering cost-saving measures.
“We’re going to try to preserve all the jobs we can. That might entail looking at—benefit costs have gone sky high–so that might look at keeping the jobs but less benefits in a lot of different areas. We’re going to look at every single department, everything we do, to try to make it through one year at a time while knowing it’s going to get worse next year and worse the following year,” Jabusch said.
Wrangell has already lost its wildlife trooper to state cuts, and the community jail is facing a potential cut of more than half of its budget.
Assembly Member Daniel Blake added municipal revenue sharing, capital improvements and the Alaska Marine Highway System to the list of reductions that could affect Wrangell.
“Basically, there’s no department across the state that’s not on the chopping block in some form or another,” Blake said.
Assembly Member Mark Mitchell said Wrangell’s relatively good financial position is a bright spot, but these cuts will still hurt the community.
“We’re just going to have to take a real close look. There will be a lot of public hearings. We’ll try to do this as fairly as we can and maintain as much as we can,” Mitchell said. “And I hope the public takes the opportunity to get involved in these talks and discussions of where we’re going to cut. It’s not ‘if.’ We have to do it.”
The borough will have a draft budget ready in mid-April after the legislature finalizes the state budget. Wrangell residents will have the opportunity to speak at public hearings on the draft budget this spring.