My Turn: We should be preparing for lean times

Posted: Monday, October 08, 2001

Last Monday evening your Assembly voted 6-3 to spend $430,000 of your money to purchase a parcel of land at the intersection of Egan Drive and the Mendenhall Loop Road. The reasons given ranged from, "It's a heck of deal," and, "There is little developable land available in the valley so we better secure it before some developer gets it," to Mr. Wheeler's, "We are elected to capitalize on good opportunities."

Early in the debate on the ordinance, a sensible motion was made to move the discussion to the Committee of the Whole to respond to the numerous questions yet unanswered. The brief delay would have given everyone an opportunity to come to a clear understanding of the issues. The move to defer failed on a 5-4 vote. Because discussion was ended prematurely, I'm taking "My Turn" to bring you information so you may be more aware of the actions of the Assembly.

When introduced, the land purchase was portrayed as an "apple pie" library site. But the first amendment made by Mr. Wheeler sliced the library out of the pie by adding "for any public purpose." Mr. Wheeler clearly stated that this is not about building a library so don't confuse the issue, this is simply about buying this piece of property for any public purpose.

Even though the most recent League of Women Voter's survey revealed that a majority (67.2 percent) of CBJ voters believe "we don't need to expand CBJ Library Services," I want to make it clear that I will always support the best library system our town can afford.

Nowhere in the CBJ charter or list of duties of any elected official is the mandate to speculate with public money. Speculation is defined as "the engagement in risky business deals on the chance of large, quick profits." There is not one Assembly member who can tell you exactly what the City will do with this property it is all at best, speculation. Yet the Assembly just agreed to spend nearly half a million dollars of your money because "it may be a great deal."

Since Mr. Wheeler took the helm of the Lands Committee one year ago, the Assembly has purchased for you 47.31 acres of land for a total of $2,520,588.50. Because this acreage is now off the tax rolls, property tax revenues for the city are reduced in a year when staff tells us we ought to be preparing for lean times.

In 1992, the city was by far the largest landholder in the borough. Much to their credit, the Assembly directed the disposal of city-held land to correct the imbalance. Lately, however, we've seen just the opposite happening. Since that resolution, there have been limited land sales amounting to only 79.93 acres while acquisitions have accumulated an additional 489.18 acres purchased.

Mr. MacKinnon (this city is going to miss him on our Assembly!) wisely gave notice of reconsideration a rule of order that allows us an opportunity to consider the issue one more time at a future meeting. I am pleased that will happen before this deal is concluded. It needs more public input, more definition of purpose and more practical justification.

Do taxpayers want our Assembly speculatively buying land? Is this sound fiscal policy? Is it sound public policy? I personally think the answer to these questions is NO. Citizens who have opinions about this issue should make them known to Assembly members before the matter comes up again. Help us make the right decision.

*****

Anderson is a member of the Juneau Assembly.



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