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1% sales tax, $25M bond to appear on Oct. ballot

Assembly tackles ballot questions ­ and more

Posted: August 14, 2012 - 12:03am

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly adopted ordinances placing a five-year extension of the 1 percent temporary sales tax and a $25 million bond issue for capital projects on the October ballot Monday evening after hearing public comment on the initiatives.

The sizable majority of members of the public who commented on the sales tax ordinance at the well-attended meeting, including Juneau Arts and Humanities Council executive director Nancy DeCherney and Sealaska Heritage Institute chief executive officer Lee Cadinger, offered support for it.

“You have discussed, deliberated, and I’m certain spent an awful lot of time coming to the decisions you make,” Juneau resident Paul Beran told the Assembly. “And I want to say thank you for doing that.”

DeCherney said she likes the slate of projects that would receive funding from the sales tax extension, should voters approve it in October.

“I think you put a really good selection in here,” said DeCherney. She added that she was glad to see certain projects, including Centennial Hall renovations, covered by the bond issue instead, saying, “We can immediately get started on Centennial Hall, for example.”

Resident Tom Williams said that while he supports the sales tax initiative, he wanted to see more public participation in deciding which projects it will fund.

“I would recommend that you take a different approach to this. I would hope you do not act on this tonight,” Williams said. “You’ve got a couple of weeks to consider it.”

Assemblymember Randy Wanamaker said he agreed with that and offered a motion to refer the ordinance to the Finance Committee, which forwarded it to the full Assembly last month.

“I think it merits further discussion by this body and it should not be adopted tonight,” said Wanamaker.

But Wanamaker was outvoted, with only Assemblymember Mary Becker joining the motion.

After it was defeated, Becker voted in favor of Assemblymember Karen Crane’s motion for adoption of the ordinance, leaving Wanamaker the only one of the eight Assembly members participating in the meeting to vote against it.

The extension of the 1 percent sales tax, which makes up one-fifth of the CBJ’s current 5 percent areawide sales tax rate, would prevent it from expiring until September 2018. It is expected to raise $44.8 million over five years.

Projects that it would help fund include deferred maintenance for public buildings, a haul-out at Don D. Statter Harbor, a new public library facility in Dimond Park, a Juneau Arts and Culture Center expansion, and a Snow Removal Equipment Facility at the Juneau International Airport.

The infrastructure bond issue, which would help fund Centennial Hall renovations, the airport terminal remodel and the proposed Eaglecrest Learning Center, among others, also drew objection from Williams and Wanamaker.

If the 1 percent sales tax extension that will contribute to retiring the bond does not pass in October, an annual property tax levy of about $42 per $100,000 of assessed value would be needed for debt service, according to the meeting agenda.

Williams said the bond issue would hike property taxes on Juneau residents, something he opposes. He urged the Assembly to reconsider it.

“Don’t pass this. Don’t even put it out there,” said Williams. “You people were elected to make some hard decisions. … I encourage you to make the hard decision tonight.”

Wanamaker again sided with Williams, saying, “I think that this community is facing serious financial uncertainty, and adding to the public debt is not what we should be doing.”

Wanamaker was joined again by Becker in his motion to refer the ordinance back to the Finance Committee. After a prolonged moment of hesitation, Assemblymember Ruth Danner voted with them as well.

But Wanamaker’s motion again failed, and Becker and Danner both spoke in reluctant support of adopting the ordinance afterward.

“Most of the things on there I really do approve of and think should have been on the 1 percent, but they weren’t,” said Becker. “I don’t like that we’re putting them on the backs of the property owners.”

Danner said she is “not a fan of the bond issue” but would support the ordinance regardless.

Both voted with the majority for another 7-1 vote placing the bond issue on the ballot, with Wanamaker again the sole “no” vote.

At the meeting, the Assembly also approved changes to the marine passenger fee code that would subject boats with accommodations for between 21 and 40 passengers to the city’s per-passenger fee, among other ordinances.

The Assembly also agreed to hear an appeal by Arthur and Linnea Osborne of the Planning Commission’s decision approving construction of two new cruise ship berths downtown. Assemblymember Johan Dybdahl agreed to serve as presiding officer.

Assemblymember Jesse Kiehl was not present at the meeting. Dybdahl participated by telephone.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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