Survey explains why voters axed sales-tax plans

Proposed pool was too elaborate; airport upgrade too confusing, respondents say

Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A $26 million aquatic center proposal had "too many bells and whistles," and a plan to renovate Juneau International Airport was too confusing to voters in October, according to a citywide survey.

The Juneau-based McDowell Group polled 400 residents to learn why two ballot initiatives failed in the last city election.

The research could be used by committees and the city staff to draw up new plans for the two projects to better meet what voters want, City Manager Rod Swope said.

Some 54 percent of voters opposed a plan to build an aquatic center in the Mendenhall Valley that would offer water slides and a whirlpool spa in addition to a swimming pool.

"A lot of residents said, 'This is much more than a pool,'" said the McDowell Group's Jim Calvin, while presenting his findings to the Juneau Assembly's Committee of the Whole on Monday.

According to the survey, 31 percent rejected the water park because it was too expensive, while 21 percent said it was too elaborate. Some 13 percent said Juneau has more important projects to finish first.

Several respondents said the city could not afford to maintain the center. Others suggested the city design one with simple features similar to the downtown public pool.

"We can always look for ways to make it less expensive," Assembly member Daniel Peterson said.

For alternative solutions, some of those polled suggested the private sector, such as JRC The Alaska Club, pay for a complex. The Assembly previously declined to forego construction if The Alaska Club built a pool.

"We have a channel full of water," one resident said.

Deputy Mayor Randy Wanamaker said the election left a lingering question about building another library that was planned to be a part of the aquatic center.

Peterson said the pool and the library could be built in phases that are easier for the public to accept.

Those rejecting the airport proposal also said it was expensive, but added that confusion over the project's purpose didn't help either.

"I think it came into the game a little late," and was not discussed as much as the other initiatives, Swope said.

Airport administrators favored $75 million worth of improvements that included additional baggage belts, renovations, a covered parking area and a new wing.

The city would pay $20 million of the costs from the extension of the 1 percent sales tax. The rest would come from federal funds and other sources.

About 28 percent of voters opposed to the airport plan said it was too expensive and 27 percent said it was not necessary. But 61 percent said they would support the plan if they had more information that demonstrates the needs.

Some voters did not believe the renovations would help the airport lure a second carrier. Others thought the city should not have to pitch in.

"Let Alaska Airlines pay for it," a resident said.

Swope said there is also a chance for the airport renovations to go back to the drawing board, but airport officials will have to do a better job of selling their ideas to the public.

The overall study has a 5 percent stated margin of error. The city paid the McDowell Group $8,500 for the survey.

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