Assembly members Maria Gladziszewski, Michelle Bonnet Hale and Greg Smith listen as the City and Borough of Juneau budget for the 2024 fiscal year is finalized and approved after a more than three-hour-long meeting Monday night. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Assembly members Maria Gladziszewski, Michelle Bonnet Hale and Greg Smith listen as the City and Borough of Juneau budget for the 2024 fiscal year is finalized and approved after a more than three-hour-long meeting Monday night. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

City approves budget with lower property tax rate and $10M to City Hall

“I don’t think that you can have both…we add to our ongoing costs and we also lower the mill rate.”

It was an expensive night for the City and Borough of Juneau after the Assembly approved the city, school district and hospital budgets after a more than two-month-long process. The budget includes $10 million towards City Hall, while lowering the city’s property tax rate to the lowest in three decades.

Though discussed for over two months, Assembly members still gave their two cents about where they think the Assembly made the right decisions in this year’s budget and what decisions were less favorable.

Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs said she doesn’t disagree with many of the decisions made in the budget process, but cautioned the Assembly to “choose what you want.”

“We have to pay for what we add to the budget and know what we’re doing,” she said, adding “I just wanted to caution us because I feel like over the years — on the limited years I’ve been on the Assembly — I don’t think that you can have both where we add to our ongoing costs and we also lower the mill rate — those two things the math does not add up.”

Assembly member Carole Triem made similar remarks and said she disagreed with some of the decisions made but did not object to the overall budget.

Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale disagreed with Hughes-Skandijs and Triem’s remarks, and said “I think that I feel very comfortable with what we came up with.”

“Good fiscal stewardship also means that we address what our taxpayers have been paid and are paying,” she said. “ I think that also is good fiscal stewardship to not continue to just endlessly tax our people and then have that extra money at the end of the year.”

Assembly member Wade Bryson shared similar remarks.

Now approved, the $536.2 million in expenditure authority (excluding the school district) for the 2024 fiscal year begins July 1. Here’s a breakdown of what is in it:

— It lowers the property tax rate

The budget was approved with a 10.16 mill rate — an amount voted on by members in May during the budget-making process. The new rate is around 4% from last year’s rate, which brings it to its lowest point in three decades.

The mill rate of 10.16 approved is a 0.4 reduction compared to last year’s rate (10.56). For example, the 0.4 reduction decreases taxes by 40 cents for every $1,000 of property value.

The approved 10.16 mill rate means that for every $1,000 in property value a property is assessed at, there is a tax of $10.16.

However, the reduction compared to last year will still likely be offset for many property owners thanks to the approximately 13% year-over-year increase in property values, which were cited as the main concerns by Assembly members who voted for the decrease during the process.

— It puts aside $10 million for City Hall

Though little was discussed about City Hall during the actual approval of the budget Monday night, the city had already previously held much discussion about putting aside additional funds for City Hall.

During Juneau’s most recent municipal election in October 2022 voters narrowly rejected a city ballot proposal to approve $35 million in bond debt to fund the majority of the construction cost for a new City Hall.

Included in this budget was a different solution to address its rapidly aging City Hall, which included putting aside $10 million in funding for it through the city’s Capital Improvement Program.

The $10 million would be in conjunction with $6.3 million appropriated by the Assembly for the project back in June of 2022.

Per request of Assembly member Christine Woll in a previous meeting on the topic, the language for funding in the budget was changed from “a new City Hall” to just “City Hall” so that if another proposed new City Hall is rejected by voters in the future, the $10 million can still be used toward costs related to the city’s current City Hall, which the city rents and pays around $820,000 for annually.

— It funds a variety of community asks

The Assembly made some tough decisions early in the budget process about what community funding requests would receive funding in the city budget for the next fiscal year.

Of the 15 requests sent in — that ranged from $2,000 to $1.4 million — and decided on by the Assembly in early May, the Assembly voted for six requests to be fully funded, five requests to be funded with a reduction and four requests to be rejected.

The asks that were approved, or approved with a reduction, are as follows:

— $1 million in one-time funding to assist in the construction of 28 permanent supportive housing units in Juneau. That amount is a $400,000 reduction from what was originally asked by the Juneau Housing First Collaborative. The $1 million will be pulled from the city’s Affordable Housing Fund, instead of general funds like the majority of the request.

— $320,000 in one-time funding to the Sealaska Heritage Institute for the development and construction costs for renovating a downtown building for a Science, Technology, Engineering Art and Math Makerspace.

— $168,000 in one-time funding for server replacement, encoder/decoder streaming equipment replacement for Gavel Alaska.

— $40,000 in one-time funding to the Juneau Economic Development Council for operations.

— $235,094 in one-time funding to Alaska Heat Smart for operations.

— $25,000 in one-time funding to replace and expand Juneau Nordic Ski Club trail-grooming equipment.

— $17,700 in recurring funding to the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

— $2,000 to the Juneau Festival Committee.

— $50,000 in one-time funding to the Rock Dump for the planning and designing of a proposed new facility.

— $80,000 in one-time funding for the Juneau Trails Plan.

— $40,000 in one-time funding to the Downtown Business Association to maintain its accreditation with Main Street America and for operations funding.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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