Projects compete for tax money

Posted: Sunday, September 11, 2005

Although the city election is almost a month away, competition among different projects for the temporary 1 percent sales tax is as fierce as that among Juneau Assembly candidates.

Supporters of building an aquatic center in the Mendenhall Valley are going from door to door to promote the project, which critics say is a want, not a need.

People who believe expanding the sewer system is the top priority say the city should spend money on basic infrastructure before building a swimming pool with slides, a whirlpool spa and other fancy features.

Some say the city can have them all.

"These projects have been talked about for years. It's time to make them happen," said resident David Rogers, who originally advocated renewing the 1 percent sales tax for 10 years to fund all the proposed projects.

In the Oct. 4 election, the city will ask voters for permission to renew the city's optional 1 percent sales tax.

Voters can allocate revenue to any or all of three categories:

• expanding Juneau International Airport ($20 million),

• building the Dimond Park Community Center aquatic facility ($26 million), and

• completing other city projects that include building a downtown parking garage, expanding Don Statter Boat Harbor at Auke Bay, extending city sewer lines and buying a mid-mountain chairlift for Eaglecrest Ski Area ($18.5 million).

There are eight possible ways to vote on the proposition, thus eight different results.

If voters approve all three categories, the sales tax will be in effect for nine years and generate $64.5 million. If voters approve none of the projects, the 1 percent sales tax will expire Dec. 31.

City Finance Director Craig Duncan said with the 5 percent sales tax the city can collect $33.5 million in sales tax in the current fiscal year. If voters don't approve the temporary 1 percent sales tax, the sales tax will drop to 4 percent, reducing the sales tax revenue to $30.3 million in sales tax for the current fiscal year.

"This 1 percent is important to fund the projects that have been identified," Duncan said. "If it is not approved, the city will have to find other funding sources for these projects if we are to proceed with them.

"There won't be a reduction in city operations and services," Duncan said.

The airport's business manager, Patricia deLaBruere, said that although the ballot says it takes three years of 1 percent sales tax revenue to expand the airport, it doesn't mean the airport would take all the money for three years and leave none for other projects.

"The Assembly will look at all projects and determine whether some projects need to have a jump start," deLaBruere said. "Some projects will be built in phases."

Chris Wyatt, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber will encourage its members to support projects improving the city's basic infrastructure, such as sewers and the airport.

"Our No. 1 priority is to keep the capital in Juneau," Wyatt said. "We need sewers to develop affordable housing. Expanding the airport will enhance our status as the capital."

Kathleen Moses, who has lived in Juneau for five years, said she doesn't think the airport needs expanding.

"It is fine as it is now," said Moses, who flies out of Juneau at least three times a year.

Moses said she will support the pool and the combination of smaller projects.

Planning Commissioner Peggy Ann McConnochie said installing sewer lines is essential to encourage economic growth and keep people in Juneau.

"We have many areas in the city that are within the city's service boundaries but are not served by city sewers," McConnochie said. "That limits the density of housing. Infill sewer is especially important when we have a great need for housing, both for rental and purchase."

McConnochie, a real estate consultant in Juneau since 1982, said expanding the airport is the only other item that seems reasonable.

"If we make it easier for citizens, legislators and travelers to come in and out of Juneau, it may help prevent the capital move," McConnochie said.

McConnochie said the aquatic center is something people all like but not all people need.

"We cannot afford to build it and maintain it," McConnochie said. "JRC The Alaska Club offered to build a swimming pool and make it available for the public, but the city rejected their generous offer. I have trouble with the city competing with a private enterprise."

Deputy Mayor Marc Wheeler, a strong supporter of the aquatic center, said the city's swimming pool is far better than the one offered by JRC The Alaska Club.

"Their proposal doesn't meet the needs of our community," Wheeler said. "They will charge people 150 percent more for a swimming pool that is below the standards of Augustus Brown Swimming Pool.

"The club members will have the primary hours and our residents will be treated like second-class citizens," Wheeler said.

Lori Norman, who has two children on swim teams, said a swimming pool in the valley is a need.

"Many children in the valley don't get to take swimming lessons because they can't get a ride," said Norman, who bought an eight-seat Honda Pilot sport utility vehicle just to shuttle her children and her friends' children from the valley to the downtown swimming pool.

"With a pool in the valley, some children can walk to the swimming pool," Norman said. "It's important to learn how to swim, especially when we live in a waterfront community."

Norman said when the Glacier Swim Club and the Juneau-Douglas High School team get together at the Augustus Brown Swimming Pool, it gets so crowded that swimmers end up fighting their way to the other end.

"We call it combat swimming," Norman said.

Rogers, who has worked with Wheeler to campaign for the pool, said he supports the pool for his 4-year-old grandson.

"What is good for him is good for everyone," Rogers said. "I cannot think of a more universal recreational opportunity than indoor swimming, especially in a cold, wet rain forest."

Rogers, who has lived in Juneau for almost 30 years, said the community has wanted a swimming pool in the valley for more than two decades.

"The longer we delay, the more it will cost," Rogers said. "Sewers are essential to the community. So is the pool. We can have both."

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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