Assembly to talk about senior sales tax exemption, but not now

Motion to pen ordinance restoring exemption fails at Monday meeting

Municipal Attorney Amy Mead, left, swears-in new member Rob Edwardson and returning members Maria Gladziszewski and Jess Kiehl, right, at the Juneau Assembly meeting on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017. At the Monday, Nov. 6 Assembly meeting, Edwardson asked the Assembly to direct Mead to write up an ordinance that would restore the full senior sales tax exemption. The motion failed, but Assembly members said they would talk about the issue later on. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The end of Monday’s City and Borough of Juneau Assembly meeting took a bit of an unexpected turn, courtesy of the newest Assembly member.

 

Robert Edwardson, who spoke during his victorious campaign this fall in favor of restoring the full senior sales tax exemption, made a motion. He asked that the Assembly direct Municipal Attorney Amy Mead to write up an ordinance that would repeal an ordinance passed in 2015 that narrowed the senior sales tax exemption to so-called “essential items” only.

The ordinance would not have been passed at Monday’s meeting, but it would have been the start of getting the ordinance put on the agenda at a future meeting.

Edwardson’s motion failed by a tally of 6-3, with Mayor Ken Koelsch, Assembly member Mary Becker and Edwardson being the three supporters of it. Of the six who voted against it, four of them — Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis and Assembly members Maria Gladziszewski, Norton Gregory and Loren Jones — voiced objections.

Jones felt it was far too early to look into the issue, as he felt it was more appropriate to bring up during the budget process in the spring.

“I think we’re going to get into a lot of those kinds of discussions, at least I hope so, when we get into the budget process and I think we have plenty of time to do what we need to do,” Jones said. “I think it’s premature to ask the attorney to draft an ordinance this early in the finance cycle going into next year.”

Gladziszewski mentioned that the Assembly has its annual retreat in early December, and the senior sales tax exemption would be an appropriate topic to bring up at that retreat. Nankervis agreed.

Gregory, who said during his 2016 campaign that he opposed the narrowing of the exemption, said his thinking on the issue has changed since then. Gregory mentioned that there are so many programs in the community that need extra money and getting more sales tax from seniors will help fund those programs.

He mentioned that emergency responders recently came to the Assembly saying their services are woefully understaffed, and Gregory said that investing in early childhood education is also a topic that has piqued his interest.

“It would save our community money in the long term to have better educated students who live happier lives and to also make more money which we then can tax,” Gregory said.

Assembly member Beth Weldon asked that CBJ Finance Director Bob Bartholomew remind the body of just how much more money the city makes now from asking seniors to pay sales tax on more items.

Bartholomew said he estimated that the city is making between $1.8 and $2 million per year from senior sales tax, and that total is expected to grow as more and more Juneau residents reach the age of 65. In September, Bartholomew said the 2016 revenue from the narrowing of the exemption was $1.8 million.

At Monday’s meeting, Bartholomew said his department will be supplying more information on “overall senior issues” at the Dec. 13 Finance Committee meeting.

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