Panel asks for sales tax extension

Temporary levy would get another 9 years

Posted: Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The only thing the Assembly Committee of the Whole could agree on Monday night was that the city needs to renew its temporary 1 percent sales tax.

At its Monday meeting, the committee disagreed how long the sales tax should be in place and on which projects the city should spend the revenue.

Juneau's temporary 1 percent sales tax expires Dec. 31, 2005, and needs voters' approval for renewal in the Oct. 4 election.

The Assembly Finance Committee had proposed extending the sales tax from five to seven years and eventually settled on nine.

The nine-year 1 percent sales tax would generate $64.5 million and would support projects such as the construction of downtown parking, maintenance of city harbors, expansion of Don Statter Boat Harbor, renovation of the Juneau International Airport, extension of city sewer lines, creation of Dimond Park Community Center aquatic facility and purchase of a mid-mountain chairlift for the Eaglecrest Ski Area.

Among the projects, the aquatic center in Mendenhall Valley, which would cost $26 million, has generated the most debate.

A total of 16 former Assembly members, including Dennis Egan and Rosemary Hagevig, sent a letter to the Assembly, suggesting the Assembly remove the community center from the sales tax package and place it before the voters for approval of a general obligation bond.

"It is problematic that this aquatic facility would be built at the expense of essential community needs such as expansion of our sewer infrastructure and improvements to other projects in which the borough already has an investment," the letter said.

The letter requested the Assembly spend money on improving essential city infrastructure such as sewer, airport and harbors.

At the Monday meeting, Assembly member Randy Wanamaker proposed removing the aquatic center from the package and extending the sales tax for six years instead of nine.

But the motion failed with a 4-4 vote. Assembly members Daniel Peterson, Stan Ridgeway, Marc Wheeler and Jeff Bush voted against the proposal. Mayor Bruce Botelho was absent.

Wheeler said the aquatic center has been the No. 1 project in community surveys during the past six years.

"It's a need for Juneau's families," Wheeler "It's time to make it happen."

The committee couldn't agree on whether to list all the proposed projects on the ballot and let the voters decide how they want to spend the money.

Bush said if the Assembly separates the package into individual items, voters would vote down every single project.

"Each one, standing alone, has the support of less than half the voters," Bush said. "The only item that has a reasonable chance of success is the swimming pool."

Wheeler suggested staff prepare a draft ballot that lists all the projects and their costs for the committee to consider at its next meeting Aug. 1.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at

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