Assembly looks to put sales tax money toward maintenance

Juneau residents will vote on whether to extend 1 percent increase in October

Juneau-Douglas High School is seen on April 27, 2015. If Juneau voters elect to extend the 1 percent sales tax increase, the Juneau School District will receive $5 million for maintenance costs over the ensuing five years. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Through vote after vote Thursday night, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee approved its list of local projects that would benefit from a 1 percent sales tax extension.

 

Going down a list of 26 items, the committee voted to fund 13 of them to varying degrees, spreading $47 million between them with an emphasis on building and facility maintenance. The three projects receiving the most money — that is, if Juneau voters choose to extend the 1 percent sales tax increase for another five years in October’s election — would be wastewater maintenance, Augustus Brown Pool maintenance and Juneau School District maintenance.

The city would allocate $13.5 million to wastewater maintenance over the next five years, $5 million each to Augustus Brown Pool and JSD maintenance. City Finance Director Bob Bartholomew said this focus was no surprise.

“It was a little bit of a theme,” Bartholomew said. “We started (talking) 12 or 18 months ago that we really need to focus resources on replacing what we have. That seemed to carry into this process better than I expected.”

Half of the proposed projects missed out on funding, as there were $120 million worth of proposals on the table and only $47 million to divvy out. Projects that didn’t make the cut included the Juneau International Airport’s Snow Removal Equipment Building, a parking improvement project that would have affected downtown and Willoughby areas and an initiative that would have kickstarted Juneau’s early childhood education programs.

The funding for the school district in particular was a departure from the recommendations of city staff and City Manager Rorie Watt, as both recommendations were to provide $3 million. Assembly member Jerry Nankervis proposed increasing that number to $5 million, as multiple presentations this year from those in the school district have alerted him to the need for more maintenance at the schools.

Multiple Assembly members opposed the increase, both because they felt other projects on the proposed list could use the money and because city staff’s recommendation was for only $3 million. Assembly member Jesse Kiehl pointed out that the city is already giving the school district nearly $27 million in its budget next year, and that the state is required to spend money on school maintenance.

“Juneau has been unusually responsive to the needs of our school facilities among districts in the state,” Kiehl said. “We have put that annual operating budget money in to replace the oil tank on the verge of leaking, to patch the hole in the roof, but the state has the constitutional obligation to provide for schools.”

The amendment to increase spending on school maintenance passed by a 5-4 margin, with Kiehl, Loren Jones, Beth Weldon and Maria Gladziszewski voting against it.

Funding for new JACC?

The other main point of contention was whether to give money to the new Juneau Arts and Culture Center (JACC). Watt mentioned at the outset of the meeting that the JACC and Centennial Hall tend to compete with each other being next door to each other. With Centennial Hall being a city-run entity and the JACC not being city-owned, it puts the city in an awkward spot in terms of funding allocation, Watt explained.

Later on, Nankervis echoed those concerns, especially after the committee voted to give $4.5 million of the sales tax money to Centennial Hall maintenance.

“I appreciate all the emails we’ve gotten and I appreciate what they’re doing to raise the funds,” Nankervis said, “I have serious concern taking tax money and giving it to an organization that will directly compete, as designed, with meeting rooms and stuff like that, will directly compete with the city facility next door.”

By a 5-4 vote, the committee voted not to allocate funds to the new JACC, with Nankervis, Mary Becker, Norton Gregory, Mayor Ken Koelsch and Debbie White voting against it. Jones, however, raised a new plan at the end of the meeting that could net some funds for the JACC in the coming years.

Jones proposed the possibility of raising the hotel bed tax from 7 to 9 percent, which would raise an extra $400,000 per year. This would amount to $2 million over a five-year period, and Jones asked that $1.6 million of that be allocated to the new JACC.

The Assembly will consider this proposal at both its July 31 Assembly meeting and then at its Aug. 9 Finance Committee meeting. If the Assembly approves Jones’ proposal, it would then become a separate item on the ballot that residents would vote for on Oct. 3.

As Bartholomew pointed out Friday morning, extending the 1 percent sales tax increase would net the city a total of $47 million, but that would be spread out over the five years beginning Oct. 1, 2018. That breaks down to about $8.5 million per year, meaning that the city will still have to prioritize the projects in terms of when they receive the money.


• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at alex.mccarthy@juneauempire.com.


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