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Assembly responds to Chamber sales tax survey

Chamber Members blast allotments for deferred maintenance

Posted: August 11, 2012 - 11:15pm

Three quarters of respondents to an internal Chamber of Commerce survey said they disapproved of the use of sales tax funds for deferred building maintenance.

The Chamber of Commerce queried its members regarding the Assembly’s handling of the 1 percent sales tax CIP process.

Assembly Members, Mary Becker, David Stone and Karen Crane stopped by for the Chamber lunch lecture to defend their Finance Committee votes on a 1 percent sales tax extension, general obligation bond and an ordinance to spend their proceeds.

Chamber Member Max Mertz of Elgee Rehfeld Mertz moderated the question-and-answer session Thursday at the Moose Lodge.

Mertz tipped his hat to the hard work of committee members as they winnowed tens of millions of dollars worth of project proposals. Dozens of project requests outstripped CBJ resources.

“It was a very hard job to try to get that list whittled down,” Mertz said.

Voters may see a general obligation bond on the ballot soon. If passed, the bond could give the Assembly a total of $59.8 million.

Mertz, who took part in writing the survey questions, said the questionnaire was not scientific, but was intended to help educate Chamber members. He said the authors tried to keep the questions neutral.

The questionnaire asked members if the process gave sufficient opportunity for public input on the tax extension, bond and ordinance. Of the 108 chamber members who responded, nearly 54 percent said no.

Slightly more than half of responders voted yes, that the assembly should postpone the tax extension and ordinance until a special election in the spring or the Oct. 2013 election.

Three-quarters of chamber responders said yes to a question regarding deferred building maintenance.

“Is it appropriate public policy to pay for deferred maintenance with future sales tax dollars and property tax-supported bonds, or should CBJ maintenance needs be paid out of the general operating budget each year,” the chamber questionnaire asked.

Mertz said he understood that the city budget has been hit hard in the last few years. He said the question’s response indicated city government should reprioritize maintenance spending.

“Instead of kicking the can down the road,” Mertz said.

Assembly Member Mary Beck agreed.

“Maintenance should not be deferred,” she said.

She said the city and borough put money toward other projects, mainly education funding. Now, however, she said she sees what happens when a city defers its maintenance.

“We have a lot of financial requirements to keep out buildings up, to keep our projects going,” Becker said.

Assembly Member David Stone said CBJ has benefited from high oil prices during the financial crisis.

“We’ve gotten bailed out,” Stone said. However, the city is going to have a tougher time in the future, he said.

Karen Crane said CBJ has funded maintenance, but the city could do it differently.

“In a perfect world, deferred maintenance should be in the budget,” Crane said.

The Assembly is scheduled to hear the ordinance and receive public comment on Aug. 13. The bond must be passed by the Aug. 27 meeting.

• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at russell.stigall@juneauempire.com.

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