City wants extra $21.6 million for school

Assembly advances four projects, three of which qualify for partial state reimbursement

Posted: Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The Juneau Assembly hammered out details of the June 12 special election during a special meeting Monday night and debated how to ask voters to approve more spending for the $54 million-and-rising Thunder Mountain High School.

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The Assembly advanced four ordinances for public comment and consideration at its next regular meeting.

If the four ordinances are approved, voters will be asked this summer to OK bonds to cover $4.5 million for safety improvements to Riverside Drive, $5 million for an artificial field and track, $920,000 for furniture and equipment cost increases, and $11.18 million for cost overruns and completion of the auditorium. All but one of the projects qualify for the state's 70 percent reimbursement plan. The exception is the Riverside Drive project, which is still being considered.

Cost overruns and a lack of money for the completion of an auditorium space led the Assembly to present an ordinance to ask voters to approve general obligation bonds in the amount not to exceed $11.18 million. If voters do not approve the ordinance, officials say the city would be responsible for paying 100 percent of the cost increases, and a shell of an auditorium would remain locked and unused until further money sources could be established.

A similar ordinance was presented and denied that would have given the voters a second option for bonds not to exceed $12.1 million, with the extra $920,000 intended for cost increases to the furniture, fixtures and equipment budget. The ordinance was denied because membersfeared voters would reject the proposal if the needs were lumped into one bond issue.

Mayor Bruce Botelho said he has been getting feedback recently about the cost increases.

"I have to say, my sense of the public mood ... (there) is a degree of anger in the community," he said.

The Assembly approved making the furniture and equipment budgets separate, so voters could decide whether to approve $920,000 in general obligation bonds.

The Assembly wants to see the completion of the new high school and put it behind them, but voters could reject the ballot measures if asked for too much, Botelho said.

"There is a tipping point, and I think we're there," he said.

If the ballot measure for the furniture and equipment cost increases fails, it doesn't mean that students will go without desks or computers. There is already money set aside.

"We're going to have a school with furniture one way or the other," Assembly member Jeff Bush said, adding that it would be nice to have it fully furnished.

If the voters reject some or all of the propositions during the special election, the Assembly would have the option of bringing it back to the voters again at the regular election in October.

"If it takes a second try, I'm going to be sitting here working for it," Bush said.

• Eric Morrison can be reached at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.



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