More than a dozen Ketchikan city jobs could be erased next year. That’s because the City Council is staring down a $1.75 million hole in the budget for 2021 — and those layoffs wouldn’t even come close to closing the budget gap.
Ketchikan city officials laid out the grim picture in a City Council meeting on Monday.
“The draft budget, as should be no surprise, was shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Amylon said.
That’s City Manager Karl Amylon. On the chopping block are as many as 15 city positions.
The reason comes as no surprise. Ketchikan, like many Southeast Alaska port communities, relies on revenue from cruise ship traffic to fund city services through direct and indirect taxation on vessels and passengers.
But this year, there were no head taxes. And there were precious few tourists paying sales taxes — revenue there is down by about 33%.
So there are some hard choices ahead.
“We’re looking at layoffs,” Amylon said. “We don’t really see other viable avenues to make up that size of a deficit.”
Amylon and outgoing Finance Director Bob Newell recommended staffing cuts to start: including public safety workers — three firefighters and three police officers, a library assistant, two finance officials and a human resources staffer. Five of the positions are unfilled, largely in public works, meaning those cuts wouldn’t leave anyone out of a job.
Amylon projects the layoffs would save around $1 million in salaries, benefits and other expenses. But that would still leave three quarters of million dollars to cut elsewhere.
Council Member Riley Gass suggested that instead of cutting city workers, officials should consider across-the-board wage cuts.
“Have we also thought about, discussed maybe, before we go doing that, seeing if employees would be interested in say, a six- or 12-month period of switching to 32-hour or, you know, four-day-a-week shifts?” Gass said. “It’s been brought to my attention that in some circumstances, that option is actually a lot more popular than you might think.”
Council Member Judy Zenge opposed cutting jobs or salaries. She argued it’s still too early in the budget process: the city’s deadline isn’t until next month.
“I just want to say that I strongly disagree with that, I think that what we should be doing is looking at all of our other options before we start scaring the unions and our employees and everybody else,” she said
Council Member Mark Flora asked for a breakdown of what it’d take to maintain the same number of jobs by repurposing funds set aside for other projects.
“I think if there’s agreement that preservation of employment and continuance of services is at least part of the overarching goal of trying to get through this budget, we’re going to need to look for funds in areas and move them from other areas in a different fashion than we have in the past,” Flora said.
Amylon said he’d do his best to bring back estimates of how large the pay cuts would need to be to fill the $1.75 million gap at the next budget meeting on Nov. 30. The budget is due just before the end of the year.