Assembly considers property tax hike

City willing to give the Juneau School District $713,000 more

Posted: Thursday, June 03, 2004

The Juneau Assembly put the public on notice Wednesday night that it probably will raise the property tax mill levy to give the schools more money.

Some of the funds also could go toward restoring some cuts in city departments, Assembly members said.

They met Wednesday as the Finance Committee. Member Jim Powell was absent.

In a straw vote, five of the eight members present said they supported giving the Juneau School District $713,000 more than the Assembly previously approved, which was $18.15 million.

The $713,000 represents the new upper limit, or cap, on local contributions to the schools. It was triggered by an increase in state funding for education worth $3.1 million to the Juneau schools.

Voting yes in the straw poll were Marc Wheeler, Merrill Sanford, Dan Peterson, Randy Wanamaker and Stan Ridgeway. The other members said they supported education but were concerned about fairness to the city's departments, which are facing $2 million in cuts.

Mayor Bruce Botelho said he'd support more money for schools but would want to restore some of those cuts.

The Juneau School Board has said it would spend the added city money to hire three secondary-school counselors and two teachers, help fund new employee contracts, restore after-school activities buses, and add crossing guards. The new teachers would be placed in grades that have bulges in enrollment.

"There are some places where numbers peak and we would like to relieve some of those situations," said schools Superintendent Peggy Cowan.

Some Assembly members were concerned about paying for the added school funds by increasing the property tax mill levy. It meant backing off the Assembly's goal of not raising the levy.

Jeannie Johnson, the Finance Committee chairwoman, said the city has to balance the affordability of living in Juneau and having good schools.

"I would like young families to be able to afford housing and my friends and neighbors to be able to afford to pay taxes," she said.

A mill levy increase to cover only the new school funds would come to .26, which translates to $26 of property tax for every $100,000 of taxable property. The Assembly also talked about raising the mill levy by .36, which would garner about $982,000 in new revenues and set the mill levy at a flat 12. It is now at 11.64.

Wheeler suggested using an increase in the liquor sales tax, or some of the city's sales tax budget reserve, to cover part of the school funding increase. But using sales taxes didn't garner widespread support.

Voters might not approve an increase in the liquor sales tax, or it might not withstand a legal challenge, some members said. And others didn't like the idea of dipping into the city's savings.

Mike Sigler, a parent, told the Assembly he'd be willing to pay higher property taxes, which would come to $65 for his family. But the Assembly wants to hear from others before it firms up its plan to raise the mill levy.

"There will be a mill rate increase unless we hear from a whole bunch of other people," Johnson said.

The Finance Committee is scheduled to meet on June 9, starting at 5 p.m. in the Assembly chambers.

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