Property tax hike needed for schools

Empire editorial

Posted: Sunday, June 06, 2004

As if the cost of owning a home in Juneau weren't high enough already, the Juneau Assembly is considering a hike in property taxes. Ugly as that prospect is, it's a must if the community wants its kids to get a decent education.

Assembly members, wearing their Finance Committee hats, met Wednesday and discussed raising the mill rate so that property owners would have to pay an extra $26 to $36 per year for every $100,000 of taxable property. Most of the additional revenue would go toward Juneau schools. City leaders also took a straw vote in which five of the eight present backed adding $713,000 to the $18.15 million already approved for the Juneau School District.

The extra money would let the district hire three secondary-school counselors and two teachers, needed for grades that have bulges in enrollment. The funds would restore buses for after-school activities and add crossing guards, and it would help fund employee contracts. All of these measures are needed to maintain the existing programs and handle the additional students in some grades.

Some city leaders were - understandably - worried about raising taxes in a town with already formidable housing prices. Plenty of people struggle to buy a home of their own, and raising taxes always hits the poor the hardest.

However, a property tax is a fairer way to distribute the tax burden than a sales tax. And underfunded schools are likely to hurt the poor even more than the wealthy, who have more means to supplement their children's education when a public school district can't meet all of its students' needs.

Individually, some Juneau residents have every right to complain that the cost of housing is already too high and property taxes shouldn't be raised. This is a town where it's especially tough to be poor.

But collectively, community residents do not have the grounds to say that the city cannot put out more dollars for education. While Juneau has pockets of poverty, it is an affluent community. In a town with as many pleasure boats, SUVs and roomy homes as Juneau has, it would be a travesty to pretend that this community can't also afford to fund a few more teachers and counselors.

Juneau is a well-off town that should have an educational environment as rich as the material lives of its residents. But to keep the schools vibrant, the community needs to back a boost in property taxes and give more money to local schools.

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