Empire editorial: Artificial turf field is a luxury, not necessity

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2007

Of the four proposed bond measures on next Tuesday's city ballot, the one calling for $3.9 million for artificial turf for two Juneau ball fields is by far the least important relative to community needs, at least in the immediate short term.

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Juneau's many recreational ball fields are of vital importance to the community, to be sure, but the proposal to spend almost $4 million equipping a baseball field at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park and a softball field at Melvin Park with artificial turf is more of a luxury than a necessity - especially when, on the same ballot, voters are being asked to approve three other measures for $85 million in capital improvement projects.

If the ball field improvements must take a back seat to other needs at this time, their supporters need to consider the scope and importance of the other projects that will be funded by a 1-cent temporary sales tax and two other bond packages.

The sales tax, over a five-year period, will provide some $10 million for a consolidated public works shop for the city, another $10 million for a much-needed areawide sewer project, $10 million for improvements to Juneau International Airport, $5 million for a new recreational boat launch and trailer parking lot at Auke Bay's Don Statter Boat Harbor, $4 million for deferred maintenance on city buildings (including Centennial Hall, City Hall, the downtown library and parking garage, the Douglas Library and fire hall, Treadwell Arena and others) and $4 million for the local portion of funding for elementary school renovations.

The first of the other two bond packages are for $22 million for extensive renovations at Harborview Elementary School ($15.3 million) and at Glacier Valley Elementary School ($7.1 million). The second is for $19.8 million for construction of a swimming pool complex in the Mendenhall Valley's Dimond Park.

Costs are associated with each of the funding proposals on this year's ballot, however. Extending the sales tax means the city's tax rate remains at 5 percent rather than dropping to 4 percent as of Oct. 1, 2008. The good news about the sales tax is that Juneau, as a major tourist destination, bears much less of a tax burden than it otherwise would.

Proposition 5, which would fund renovations at Harborview and Glacier Valley elementary schools, would add nothing to local property taxes for the first five years of the measure, but in years five through 10, it would add approximately $21 per $100,000 in assessed property value ($63 per year for a $300,000 home).

The Dimond Park pool measure would add about $34 per $100,000 to a homeowner's property tax bill, or another $102 for a $300,000 home.

And the turf measure, while the least costly, would add another $12 per $100,000 in assessed value to property taxes ($36 for a $300,000 home).

Proposition 3 is certainly the least costly of the initiatives on this year's ballot, but adding $4 million to other, bigger-ticket items that carry much greater importance and immediacy just isn't the thing to do at this juncture.

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