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Unalaska Adopts $39.9M Budget, Using FY19's Surplus To Cover FY20's Deficit

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Berett Wilber/KUCB
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Despite spending concerns, the City of Unalaska has adopted a $39.9 million budget for fiscal year 2020 — up 27 percent from this year.

The City Council approved the plan unanimously on Tuesday. It draws on the city's fund balance to cover a $9 million budget gap that's driven by increased contributions to capital projects and nonprofit grants.

That budgeted deficit marks a significant departure from Unalaska's recent history of posting comfortable surpluses. But according to Interim Finance Director Jim Sharpe, the city's conservative spending this fiscal year should mitigate higher costs in the next one.

"We're currently showing a surplus of over $9 million through March, which is outstanding — particularly in light of the budget discussion for FY20 and the concerns surrounding the budgeted deficit," said Sharpe. "You can see that will be taken care of just through [the surplus from] this current year."

Sharpe's comments were a comfort to Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson. He generally supported the higher FY20 spending on capital projects and nonprofits, which total $18 million and $1.47 million, respectively.

"I'm really happy to see the [FY19] revenues fall in line where we budgeted," said Robinson. "It's a big relief."

Councilor Roger Rowland, however, is still worried. He was among the councilors calling for a more conservative plan.

"I'm happy to see that our revenues are over our budget this year. That does take the sting out," said Rowland. "But we can't count on always having $9 million extra, so I want to watch this closely moving forward."

Councilor Shari Coleman agreed with Rowland, citing the future threat of state budget cuts proposed by the Dunleavy administration. If passed, they could strip Unalaska of millions of dollars in tax revenue from commercial fisheries.

"It still makes the hairs on the back of my neck kind of stand up — the way we've got it set up and the amount of capital projects we've got going on," said Coleman.

Twenty-eight projects are set to receive funding in FY20. That includes $5 million for the public library expansion, $1.7 million for generator upgrades at the powerhouse, and $1 million for renovations at the school playground.

Alaska lawmakers and Gov. Mike Dunleavy are still working on the state budget in Juneau. Unalaska's budget goes into effect July 1.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019.
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