Juneau Assembly members on Wednesday agreed to decrease property taxes, increase bus service and provide funding for a proposed ice rink at Savikko Park in Douglas.
The Assembly Finance Committee has spent the past month considering what to do with $3.1 million in additional revenue expected in fiscal year 2002, which begins July 1. Discussion on Wednesday centered on how much money to put into a property tax decrease and the city's rainy day account.
Under a plan approved by the committee, Juneau residents will see a half-mill decrease in the property tax rate. In other words, a person with a house valued at $200,000 will see a $100 tax decrease, according to the city's Finance Department. Assembly members also agreed to put about $1.15 million into the city's rainy day savings account.
The Assembly approved the proposal by a 5-3 vote with Assembly members Dale Anderson, Don Etheridge, Ken Koelsch, John MacKinnon and Cathy Muoz voting yes. Frankie Pillifant, Jim Powell and Marc Wheeler voted no. Under the plan, Juneau's mill rate will be 11.49, according to City Finance Director Craig Duncan.
MacKinnon said the city has a tendency to spend excess revenue. The money belongs to taxpayers, he said.
"We don't need to take their money and store it," he said.
Wheeler said he agreed with efforts to provide tax relief, but thought the city should put more money in the rainy day account. The city is facing tighter budgets in the next two years and will need to back efforts to stop a capital move, he said.
Wheeler supported a plan that called for a
two-tenths mill rate decrease and a deposit of almost $2 million into the rainy day account. That proposal failed in a tie vote.
"Some tax relief is fair, but we have to look to the future. It makes sense to save more money," Wheeler said.
Powell said everyone on the Assembly supported a property tax decrease, it was just a matter of how much. He wanted to put more money into reserves to fight a capital move, he said.
Koelsch supported the half mill decrease.
"We're going to be increasing sewer rates $2 a month and we're looking at increased assessments on houses," he said.
Assembly members agreed to budget increases worth about $1.23 million. The list includes year-round, half-hour bus service, three firefighter-medics, a transportation planner, a feasibility study for a performing arts center, financial software and funding for a voter's guide and city newsletters.
The Juneau Economic Development Council will get $30,000 of a requested $108,000 increase. Perseverance Theatre will see $50,000 of a $159,000 requested increase. A proposal to give the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau $35,000 for Alaska Travel Industry Association fees was deleted from the list.
Funding for half-hour Capital Transit service in future years will depend on a 10 percent increase in riders, Muoz said. Pillifant said increased bus service provides more flexibility to commuters and families, and helps relieve parking pressure.
A proposed ice rink at Savikko Park will see $375,000 in capital funding, plus $14,000 for the first year of operations under the recommendations. Muoz said the rink is scheduled to open in September 2002.
Douglas Fourth of July Committee President Rich Poor said the Assembly's support will help the ice rink project move forward.
"There are a multitude of things that have to be done, but it's the green light," he said.
Assembly members took $450,000 extra for the school district off the budget list because of changes in state funding that benefit local schools, MacKinnon said.
The Assembly is scheduled to adopt the operating and capital budgets and formally set the mill levy at a June 4 meeting.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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