Leaders tout one sales tax

Separate taxes thought to be divisive

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

Local voters will get to vote up or down on a five-year, 4 percent, temporary sales tax this October if the Juneau Assembly's preliminary recommendation gets the nod.

In the past, the package was presented to the electorate in two pieces -- a 3 percent tax for general government operations and a 1 percent tax for special projects such as the new police station and parks and harbors work.

Of the total 5 percent sales tax that Juneau levies, the remaining 1 percent isn't voted on, since it's mandated by the city charter.

``Having one (sales tax) measure helps keep the ballot questions simple,'' Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon said at a Wednesday night assembly work session where the tax plan was discussed.

Some assembly members recently expressed concern that separate sales tax ballot propositions this fall might cause voters to choose between the two and, further, pit those vying for tax revenues against each other.

``Losing that 3 percent sales tax would mean a financial holocaust for city hall,'' said Finance Committee Chairman Dwight Perkins. ``At the same time, we need to look after our schools and our hospital.''

Consolidating the two temporary taxes will help the community and get more people involved in the process, Perkins said.

``A single measure gets everyone behind the thing,'' MacKinnon said. ``And, frankly, there are synergies in promoting it.''

The tax would generate $21 million per year, he said, and would parcel out revenues much as a 3 percent measure passed in 1995 did: 1 percent for schools, police services, fire protection and other general purposes; 1 percent for roads, drainage, retaining walls, sidewalks, stairs and other basic needs; and 1 percent for water and sewer system extensions, an emergency budget reserve and youth activities.

The fourth percent -- usually a separate ballot measure -- would help fund half of Bartlett Regional Hospital's $40 million expansion plan. The Bartlett project would take up revenues from four of the tax's five-year span. One year's revenue from that fourth percent would go toward paying off $7 million in school maintenance and repair bonds, 70 percent of which will eventually be reimbursed by the state.

``We see a synergy in this,'' said Bartlett Administrator Bob Valliant.

``I, too, see a synergy,'' said schools Superintendent Gary Bader.

But one assembly member's attempt to join in the general synergy came up short.

Jim Powell felt some of the 4 percent measure's revenue should go to an ice rink.

``Frankly, if somebody in my family gets sick, I might want to take them to the hospital, rather than to an ice rink,'' countered deputy mayor MacKinnon.

Mayor Egan expressed a concern about the possible outcome of the state general election, a month after the city election.

Citing possible passage of a statewide property tax cap measure, Egan said ``I want to make sure in my mind that we don't do something that's going to come back and bite us.''

MacKinnon instructed the city manager to make up a list of the pros and cons of putting the single sales tax measure on the ballot.

The current 1 percent temporary sales tax runs out on Dec. 31 of this year; the 3 percent in June 2002.

The 3 percent tax is critical to the functioning of the city, said City Manager Dave Palmer, hence the precautionary measure of putting it on the ballot a year ahead of time.

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