A municipal election lacking dramatic races will pose a series of multi-million-dollar questions to voters in October.
Juneau residents will get a chance to vote on three ballot initiatives that are set to appear on the City Borough of Juneau’s municipal election ballot this fall. The initiatives were OK’d for ballots Monday night during the regular Assembly meeting at City Hall, and each ballot initiative received varying levels of support from the public who attended the meeting and from members of the Assembly.
The ballot initiatives seek voter approval on a five-year extension of the temporary 1% sales tax the city already has in place to fund multiple projects, a decision on whether to approve $35 million in bonds to gotoward funding the construction of a new City Hall and lastly for voters to consider if the city should allocate $6.6 million in bonds toward funding the construction and equipment of park improvements at city parks. Voters will also get a say in whether the city repeals an ordinance that requires disclosing the sales price of property in the City and Borough of Juneau. That initiative is the result of petitioning from locals who oppose the requirement.
The ballot initiative to decide if voters want to extend the already existing the 1% tax increases added to retail sales, rentals and CBJ services would provide funds for a wide range of city projects. If passed, the extension would immediately go into place the day after the current levy is set to expire at the end of September 2023 and extend it for the next five years.
The city estimates the 1% tax will accumulate around $60.2 million throughout its five-year lifespan, which then can then be used on projects such as affordable housing initiatives, child care support and less-observed projects like maintenance of CBJ and Juneau School District facilities.
Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski, who supported the ballot initiative, said if it is passed by voters, any allocations would have to come back to the Assembly to be thoroughly thought through before getting the go-ahead to be appropriated. It passed unanimously.
Voters will also get to divide decide if the city should approve $35 million in bonds that would provide funding for the construction of a new city hall. The proposed building would move the location of the current city hall over toWhittier Street, across the street from the state museum. The total project is estimated to cost around $41.3 million, which would require the $35 million bonds along with $6.3 million to be pulled from general funds, an amount that the Assembly has already allocated.
The current City Hall located downtown across from Marine Park is one of the most expensive municipal buildings for the city to maintain and costs $800,000 annually for the city to rent out, according to the city. Assembly member Wade Bryson said building of a new City hall would save the city more money in the long run. He said it would also provide opportunities for housing downtown by shrinking the five locations that the city uses for CBJ offices into one central location.
“I believe that the situation we have now is probably the worst thing we are doing in the city,” he said. “Using taxpayer money to pay rent should be criminal.”
Many members of the public chimed in to express their opinions on the ballot initiative, many expressing opposition to its construction.
Dave Ignell, a resident of west Juneau, expressed opposition for the bond initiative, citing other more pressing needs.
“I can’t fathom spending 35 million dollars on office space when other infrastructure needs to be addressed,” he said. “Take care of existing problems before starting to build new infrastructure.”
Gladziszewski and Assembly member Greg Smith were not in favor of the bond initiative, and both said it was not the right timing to build given the current cost of building materials and construction.
Ultimately, the initiative passed 7-2 and voters will decide if the bonds should be approved to finance the new City Hall, something Bryson and Assembly member Carole Triem said will save the city a lot of money in the future.
“The not do anything option will costs more over the next 30 years,” Bryson said. “Not doing something, we’re looking at $12 to 18 million for this building in the next four years and massive renovations — we’d pay more money than if we build City Hall now and build it correctly.”
“We really have explored every single option,” Triem said. “Given the current debt load as a city, it’s a good time to issue bonds because it won’t raise people’s taxes.”
Lastly, voters will be asked whether the city should issue $6.6 million in bonds to go toward the funding of construction and equipment costs for park improvements at city-located parks. The improvements would include turf and track surfacing for sports facilities at Adair Kennedy Park, the construction of a new public use cabin and area wide trail maintenance. Assembly member Greg Smith said he wanted to take it to the ballot for the public to decide because of the importance recreation is to the Juneau community.
The initiative was met with much public support at the meeting, including Ryan O’Shaughnessy, the executive director at Trail Mix Inc. who said putting funds toward trails is a “great investment,” along with two other members of the public who spoke in favor of the initiative. Trail Mix is a nonprofit dedicated to maintaining and improving Juneau’s trails.
Assembly members were split on the decision, many opposed it due to the lack of public process that the ordinance has undergone, and said it is too premature to take to the ballot yet. It passed by a 6-3 vote.
The CBJ municipal election is set to take place on Oct. 4.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.