Empire editorial: Fix the market, and not the tax assessor

Posted: Sunday, April 17, 2005

Shock over housing prices is almost a rite of passage for newcomers to Juneau. But even many old-timers were stunned in the last two weeks as the latest tax assessments arrived in their mailboxes.

Many homeowners cried foul when they saw their assessments had skyrocketed by as much as 25 percent. Some people think their assessment actually exceeds the price they could get for their home. If their research bears them out, that's what city appeals are designed for.

But irate homeowners need to remember the city is required by state law to follow specific procedures and write up assessments that mirror the market. And prices are escalating at an astonishing rate.

City leaders already are considering how to deal with the boost in revenue that comes with steeper property assessments. Increased tax revenue could help in several areas, such as allowing the city to provide bus service every half-hour year-round and covering the unexpected jump in fuel prices.

Homeowners, however, should not panic. The Juneau Assembly is looking at lowering the mill rate so higher taxes don't hit property owners as hard.

Rather than weep and moan that they have to pay higher taxes, residents should pressure the Juneau Assembly to move ahead on what remains one of the city's biggest problems: a shortage of affordable housing.

Younger and low-income people are especially finding it hard to own homes. The cost of housing makes it tougher for businesses to recruit workers from Outside when coming to Juneau means moving into a smaller, less comfortable home than what they had elsewhere.

The Assembly set goals at the beginning of the year to address the city's housing problems. Among their plans was to streamline the permitting process so that people could build more easily and more land could be made available for housing. Another goal is to complete certain sewer projects that will allow denser housing in some areas. High-density housing is especially important if homes are to be made available to first-time owners and lower-income people.

But progress has been slow and citizens need to make it clear to Assembly members that affordable housing should be at the top of their agenda. The city needs to drastically pick up the pace and do its part to make housing available. While it plods along, the market is racing ahead and leaving too many people priced out.

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