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Assembly hears from public on property taxes

Testimony favors planned mill rate increase

Posted: April 22, 2013 - 11:08pm

The Borough Assembly Chambers were crowded Monday evening, as members of the public turned out for a meeting that included extensive public testimony on the City and Borough of Juneau’s proposed property tax increase.

Most of the people who testified spoke in favor of holding to a planned increase in the mill rate, which is used to calculate property taxes in the CBJ.

At the direction of the Assembly Finance Committee, City Manager Kim Kiefer presented a list of suggested cuts last week that would compensate for the loss of expected revenue if the Assembly decides not to raise the rate by 0.23 mills, which would lead to a predicted $1 million loss in revenue in fiscal year 2014.

Among the cuts recommended if the mill rate is not increased to 10.89 mills, the FY14 rate approved by the Assembly last year, is a reduction in Capital City Fire/Rescue staffing positions.

That item brought members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 4303 union to testify in protest.

“The mill levy to us is irrelevant,” said firefighter Roy Johnston, responding to a question from Assemblymember Johan Dybdahl about whether his testimony should be construed as being in favor of increasing the mill rate. “We’re asking you to properly fund the fire department and emergency services.”

Another proposed cut, this one to Youth Activity Grants, which support athletic programs for young people, was opposed by other members of the public who testified Monday.

“In terms of being the president for the Juneau Douglas Ice Association, I would say obviously my recommendation is keep that fully funded,” said Arnold Liebelt. “It is a small investment that we give to the youth in this community. … They are the future in this town. We just don’t coach good hockey players, we coach good citizenship.”

Tom Rutecki was among the members of the public to directly criticize the idea of dropping the planned mill rate increase.

“This proposed cut would adversely affect many people who are our friends and neighbors, and I think the people who would be most affected are our kids,” Rutecki said.

Rutecki added, “In my opinion, this would be an ideological move instead of doing the right thing.”

Barbara Sheinberg made a similar argument.

“One of the reasons that I am really proud to be a Juneau citizen, frankly, is that I feel that we have a really good track record of supporting services here, and we’re not afraid to pay for things that we enjoy,” said Sheinberg. “And I don’t think that’s true in every Alaskan community. And I believe that this is another example of a time when we should retain this modest mill rate increase to keep offering the services that we do.”

The mill rate now stands at 10.55 mills. In addition to a planned increase of 0.11 mills for debt service, an increase that has already been approved by voters, the 0.23 mill increase would raise the rate to 10.89 mills.

A mill is defined as one-tenth of a penny, or one-thousandth of a dollar. The 10.89 mill rate would work out to $1,089 per $100,000 in assessed property value.

In accordance with Kiefer’s recommendation, the Assembly referred the ordinance establishing the 10.89 mill levy for FY14 back to the Assembly Finance Committee. It was among four items related to the FY14 budget to be returned to the Finance Committee after being offered for public testimony Monday.

Dybdahl cautioned that Kiefer’s list of recommended cuts if the mill rate is not increased by 0.23 mills is not to be considered an official proposal on the part of the CBJ.

“I think that by putting it out the way we did, that all we did is cause the public a lot of alarm,” Dybdahl said.

The Assembly also honored Jim King, a member of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee who was first appointed in 1968, with a mayoral proclamation. Parks and Recreation Director Brent Fischer also presented King with a certificate of appreciation from department staff.

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

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