Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon listens to public testimony during a Juneau Assembly meeting on Monday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon listens to public testimony during a Juneau Assembly meeting on Monday. (Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire)

Assembly approves $22.75M in bonds to be considered on this fall’s municipal ballot

$12.75M would fund public safety communications upgrades; $10M wastewater utility improvements.

Juneau residents will be asked to approve spending nearly $23 million for projects, including a new communications system for emergency response officials and wastewater treatment plant improvements, on the Oct. 1 municipal election ballot.

The Assembly accepted public testimony in its consideration of placing both bonds on the ballot at its July 1 meeting. However, there was only a brief discussion before both motions passed unanimously.

Juneau resident Frank Bergstrom, the only person to testify about the proposed $12.75 million bond to improve public safety communications infrastructure, asked for transparency about the equipment the money is purchasing.

“How long does your cellphone last?” he asked in an interview following the unanimous approval to put the bond on the ballot. “How do we know that it’s gonna last as long as the bonds are to pay for it?”

Replacing the radio system is the second-ranked priority on the city administration’s capital improvements list for this year, behind a new City Hall currently in negotiations to move to the Michael J. Burns building.

The Juneau Police Department’s radio system had a 2014 end-of-life date and City Manager Katie Koester said the impacts spread “far broader” than just the police department, impacting Capital City Fire/Rescue and public works as well. She said various equipment is needed to be Alaska Land Mobile Radio compliant, such as new towers and the foundations for them.

“Handheld things, dishes on the towers,” Deputy City Manager Robert Barr added. “IT infrastructure inside the police station to receive all the signals and communicate them out to partner agencies like Troopers. So I’m sure there’s a level of detail that’s not confidential and could be shared. JPD is working on redacting proposals.”

Some funding toward the new system would be covered by $6 million in capital improvement project funds already allocated to the city manager’s office, federal funds approved by Congress and some revenue from the city’s temporary 1% sales tax, Koester said. The $12.75 million bond request “is the remainder that is necessary.”

Assemblyman Wade Bryson said a previous study conducted by JPD showed the Mendenhall Valley has 50% dead zones in many areas.

Barr said the City and Borough of Juneau publishes a voter’s information packet well before Oct. 1. The packet will include information on the communications upgrades, the $10 million bond to finance wastewater utility improvements and a “Ship-Free Saturday” petition.

As with the communications bond, only one person offered public testimony on the wastewater bond: Nano Brooks asking, “why now?”

Koester said the bond is due to the need to replace facilities that are up to 50 years old. She said the work is particularly time-sensitive since erosion and other damage to wastewater treatment infrastructure presents a public safety risk.

Specified in the draft ordinance is “replacement of the wastewater clarifier building at the Juneau Douglas Wastewater Treatment Plant that services Thane, Downtown and Douglas.”

The bond will prevent additional rate increases to pay for the upgrades, Koester said. A 2% water and sewer rate intended to keep pace with inflation, approved by the Assembly in 2019, took effect July 1.

Passing both bonds would increase the city’s debt service costs by about $2.75 million a year for the 10-year life of the bonds, which would equate to an annual property tax levy of about $42 per $100,000 of assessed value, according to the draft ordinances.

Koester said that amount could be added to the city’s existing debt service without raising the portion of the overall mill rate that covers such payments.

The Assembly first approved the introduction of the two draft ordinances on June 17 without discussion as part of the consent calendar, following reviews of the projects involved during previous meetings.

• Contact Jasz Garrett at jasz.garrett@juneauempire.com or (907) 723-9356.

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