Voters may get the chance this October to choose whether revenue from the 1 percent sales tax will fund a Mendenhall Valley pool, airport upgrades or other projects.
The Assembly Committee of the Whole voted 5-4 Monday to allow voters in the Oct. 4 election to allocate sales tax revenue to any of three categories: the expansion of Juneau International Airport, the building of the Dimond Park Community Center aquatic facility, and other city projects that include building a downtown parking garage, maintaining city docks and harbors and extending sewer lines.
Voters could approve all three categories, pick only some or reject all. What they choose to spend the money on would determine how long the sales tax would be in place.
"A lot of people want to vote on the swimming pool," Assembly member Marc Wheeler said. "It's nice to give the public some choice on the ballot."
Mayor Bruce Botelho and Assembly members Wheeler, Stan Ridgeway, Daniel Peterson and Jeff Bush voted for the proposal.
The Juneau Assembly will vote on the plan Aug. 25 at the same time it will consider an alternative the committee approved in July.
Under the previous plan, the 1 percent sales tax would be in place for nine years and pay for all the city projects, ranging from a chairlift for Eaglecrest Ski Area to a new aquatic center. The tax would generate $64.5 million during those nine years.
The city's sales tax expires Dec. 31 and needs voters' approval to be continued.
The aquatic center costs $26 million to build and needs 1 percent sales tax revenue for almost four years. The airport project costs $20 million and requires two years of sales tax revenue. The rest of the projects need almost three years of revenue.
The committee struggled over whether to separate from the package some of the most expensive projects, such as the expansion of Juneau International Airport and the building of the Dimond Park Community Center aquatic facility, and fund them through general obligation bonds.
Assembly member Merrill Sanford said he likes neither of the proposals that will be voted on Aug. 25. He said the sales tax should be in place for five years instead of nine.
"We have gone too far," Sanford said. "People are a little bit conservative about their tax bills. We will have to put something off."
Sanford said he prefers to delay building the swimming pool and spend money improving basic infrastructure.
David Summers, president of Juneau Chamber of Commerce, said he is worried that if the Assembly gives voters an opportunity to pick the projects, they will end up competing against one another.
"This is the least favorable scenario for everyone," Summers said.
At the meeting, the committee unanimously agreed to ask voters to approve a $6 million general obligation bond to renovate Glacier Valley School in the October ballot.
"Depending on how the sales tax eventually comes out, there is an opportunity we may look at other G.O. bonds next year," Bush said. "This is a good time to put on a school G.O. bond."
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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