Juneau voters will decide on a $15 million bond package in October after the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted Monday to bring the package to ballots.
If passed, the money will mostly be split three ways, with roughly $5 million each going to repairs and improvements for schools, parks and city infrastructure, according to the text of the ordinance. A yes-or-no vote will appear on Juneau’s municipal ballot in October in a yet unnumbered proposition.
That three-way split of funds isn’t set in stone, something that was intentionally done to give the city more flexibility in how it pays for projects, Assembly members said.
The costs of various projects, school roof repairs for example, might run over $5 million according to Assembly member Greg Smith, who said appropriating bond money more generally allowed the city to deal with cost variations.
“Having some approximation numbers in there to make sure the top priorities get paid for is good,” Smith said Tuesday in an interview.
Interest rates from the federal government were low, making it a good time to borrow, Smith and other Assembly members said, and all of the projects are things the city needs. What’s more, is the city will be paying off some of its debts meaning it won’t have to use tax-payer money to make payments.
Debt coming off the books means the city could lower taxes, but the city is suggesting to instead keep taxes basically at their current levels in order to pay for the bond package.
Assembly member Wade Bryson said he would’ve liked to lower taxes, but the current economic climate makes the bond package a good way to stimulate the local economy.
“Keeping it even right now was kinda the best scenario,” Bryson said. “I think this does a lot of good for the community, I see this as a way the city can help people out at a time when they’re struggling.”
The suggestion that the city invest in infrastructure projects came from the Juneau Economic Stabilization Task Force and city staff created a list of projects. The original list included new construction projects such as extending the West Douglas Pioneer Road, but the proposal was changed to only pay for repairs and pre-existing infrastructure, according to Mayor Beth Weldon.
“We tried to make it projects that were just dealing with infrastructure and deferred maintenance, repair issues.” Weldon said. “We were responding to those people in the public that asked us to do that.”
Also Monday Assemblymembers voted to appropriate $12 million of CARES Act money on grants for small businesses and nonprofits in Southeast Alaska.
The city’s small business grant program received $8.5 million, the nonprofit grant program received $3 million and $500,000 went to emergency air transportation company Airlift Northwest, to help them continue to serve Southeast. Assembly members will get an update on the city’s CARES Act spending at their Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, Weldon said.
Tuesday’s meeting was briefly interrupted when a member of the public called in and made sexually explicit comments directed toward Assembly member Carole Triem during a public comment period.
Assembly members came to Triem’s defense, an act she said was appreciated.
“I’m really glad my fellow assembly members spoke up last night, I know that can be really hard to do in the moment,” she told the Empire Tuesday in an interview.
Triem dismissed the caller but said the incident was reflective of an environment women often have to deal with and hoped it would raise awareness about the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct against women.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnoEmpire.