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City of Unalaska weighs $32 million budget proposal, projected to run up a deficit of nearly $7 million

Laura Kraegel

The City of Unalaska is facing a nearly $7 million deficit under the operating budget proposed for fiscal year 2024.

Acting City Manager Bil Homka and Interim Finance Director Clay Darnell presented the roughly $32 million spending plan at a City Council meeting this month. They said costs are up significantly in a number of areas the city can’t control, including staff pay increases that have already been negotiated and higher prices for airfare, electricity, and heating oil.

“We looked for savings in other areas to offset those increases,” Darnell told the council. “But we couldn’t always find those.”

Several councilors voiced concerns about the proposal, including Councilor Daneen Looby, who pressed Darnell on the projected deficit.

“So if everything went according to the budget, we’d basically be almost $7 million in the hole?” asked Looby.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Darnell. He told councilors the city has often budgeted at a deficit and then spent less than expected, coming out even or ahead.

Darnell and Homka said it’s a strategy that gives city departments some budget slack while maintaining services that Unalaskans depend on. The operating budget pays for services including police, public works, and the Department of Parks, Culture, and Recreation.

Still, Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson called on city officials to try to find ways to pare down.

Robinson said he’s worried that fishing seasons are getting faster for pollock and other commercial fisheries that power Unalaska’s economy — something that could mean less business around town, and less sales tax revenue for the city.

“I would hate to see people laid off, but that’s not something that’s off the table,” said Robinson.

Councilors and city officials are expected to continue hashing out the budget through May. That’ll include deciding on a capital spending plan for city projects, funding for the Unalaska City School District, and community support grant applications from eight nonprofits.

The City Council’s next meeting is set for Tuesday, April 25.

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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