My turn: Feeling squeezed?

Juneau needs to prioritize spending, shelve dream projects

Posted: Sunday, August 27, 2006

We seem to be a city of people that likes its projects. The hospital gets a renovation. Eaglecrest gets a new chair lift. We're building a brand new high school. There are extensive harbor development plans for downtown as well as Auke Bay, and major repair budgets for schools, docks, roads, etc. We want a second bridge crossing to Douglas Island. We look at the pool facility in Whitehorse and wonder why we don't have something like it in the valley. After these rains, Perseverance Trail is going to need major work. I suspect the library board has plans, too. All this, despite that the second phase of the hospital renovation is 50 percent over budget - $7 million - ka-ching. The valley school was redesigned three times - ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.

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The other shoe dropped last spring when we home owners received our latest property assessment. Feel squeezed? I certainly do.

The assessor's office has been very aggressive. I understand the state requires assessment at 100 percent, but for the past two months my neighbor down the street has been trying to sell her house for $12,000 under the assessed value. Its still for sale. Do you think she is entitled to a rebate from the city? Her assessment is evidently more than 100 percent. The housing market appears to have softened quite a bit. Think we're going to see a drop in our assessed valuations unless we fight for it?

I bought a boat last year that, because I live in the Mendenhall Valley, I've been keeping at Auke Bay. This summer per-foot daily summer fees went from 35 cents to 45 cents. They are going up another dime next year. That means I will have to shell out more than $700 per month for the three summer months just to park my boat. Perhaps we look at all the dot-com multi-millionaire boats out there and try to figure out a way to get more money out of them, but what we really do is squeeze our friends and neighbors. I may well sell my boat because I simply can't afford the moorage rate.

If you agree with me and are also feeling squeezed, we need to change things. It used to be popular at planning meetings to begin by having participants list out their fondest dreams, disregarding any costs. The problem with that method is that anything less than fondest dreams is thought of as a loss - something less than what we want. Look at the plans for the downtown harbor and Auke Bay. Who's going to pay for all of that? You and me, that's who. We seem to forget that we are a relatively small town of 30,000. There are only about 2,500 homes in Juneau to tax. Yet we dream like someone in Seattle, where there are 750,000 or so people.

If we expect our planning departments to scale back, and our Assembly members to bite the bullet and reject extravagant spending, then we have to scale back in our demands upon them. We need to prioritize our spending and shelve the expensive things. Or, we are all going to feel much more squeezed than we currently do.

• Steve Wolf is a Juneau resident.

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