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Assembly committee votes on bridge, school

Posted: Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Juneau Assembly Finance Committee voted to increase utility rates 7 percent in each of the coming two fiscal years Wednesday.

The committee voted 8-1 to implement a 7 percent rate increase for all city utility customer service classes for water and sewer during fiscal year 2011 and an additional 7 percent in fiscal year 2012.

Public Works Director Joe Buck said the total increase is necessary to assist his department with debt coverage and to keep it from draining its reserve funds.

He said even with this increase, there may not be enough for revenue in 2013.

Buck said the smaller increases over the next two years are preferable to one larger increase so people can adjust more easily.

Utility Board chairman Dick Behrends said the rate increase was decided after conducting a revenue requirements analysis and the board is working with a consulting firm to provide management, operations and financial audits.

Assembly member Randy Wanamaker voted against the increase because he felt the audits should be studied more before deciding on an increase.

The committee also approved a ballot measure regarding a proposed bridge to North Douglas, and a bond issue for Auke Bay Elementary School.

The North Douglas bridge ballot proposal passed unanimously, moving it one step closer to the Oct. 5 municipal ballot. The proposal now will head to a vote of the full Assembly. If approved there and by the voters, the 1 percent temporary sales tax will continue for 10 years. The funds collected from the temporary tax would, if the measure is successful, go towards a crossway between the Glacier Highway interchange and Henrickson Point.

The North Douglas Bridge Project has been an issue before the Assembly for several years.

The Safe, Affordable, Future, Efficient Committee addressed the Assembly to let Juneau voters decide on the tax to help move the project forward.

"This vote will mean a clear sign of voter support and financial means," said S.A.F.E. chairman Rick Shattuck.

Assembly member Jonathan Anderson agreed that the purpose of night's vote was to move the project along and any funds for the $70 million project estimate would be appropriated at a later time, and only if approved by the voters.

He added the support of local funding was necessary to get state and federal funding, which he said would most likely be required.

Assembly member Merrill Sanford said this vote would be a first for the Assembly, as they've never asked for something that would last 10 years before.

If voted in, funds from the temporary tax would begin funding the bridge in 2013.

The other issue before the Assembly was for a $18.7 million bond to renovate Auke Bay Elementary School. It passed 8-1.

Representatives of the school board said the renovation was deemed necessary after a study by architecture and design firm Jensen Yorba Lott determined that such a renovation could bring the school up to standards where it is now lacking.

Wanamaker felt that the issue could better be resolved by rebuilding the school in the Lemon Creek area. He said this is a neglected area whose children could benefit from having an elementary school there.

• Contact Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.



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