A shopper reaches for some fruit in the produce section at Super Bear IGA. City and Borough of Juneau members OK’d an ordinance that approves funding for a third party to survey Juneau residents on the question of the city should consider removing the sales tax on food. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

City OKs surveying residents on possibly removing sales tax on food

Short-term rental survey gets the go-ahead, too.

The City and Borough of Juneau is seeking information on much-debated topics that could shape future policy.

Two ordinances to conduct borough-wide data collection Monday night got the go-ahead from the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly, with one appropriating $20,000 to go toward the effort of collecting data on short-term rental units in Juneau and another putting $40,000 toward a survey of Juneau residents on the question of the city should consider removing the sales tax on food.

The short-term data collection ordinance passed unopposed and the sales tax on food ordinance passed with an 8-1 vote. Assembly member Carole Triem opposed the survey because she said she said there is a more efficient way of getting the information.

“I think It’s a waste of time and money,” said Triem. “We already have a way to conduct this by putting it on the ballot. We would create busy work, and it does not eliminate any of the work for voters or Assembly members.”

Now that the ordinances is passed, the city will contract a research firm to conduct surveys across Juneau and seek to assess whether survey participants believe in the removal of sales tax on food. From there, the research firm will determine, regardless if most surveyors approve, what methods the city could use to compensate for the lost CBJ revenue if the sales tax were to be removed.

[Assembly OKs 3 initiatives to appear on local ballots]

Assembly member Wade Bryson and Maria Gladziszewski said that this survey would be beneficial because it’s not the first time this question has been placed in front of the Assembly and it’s a good time to conduct the survey to the question “once and for good.” Mayor Beth Weldon also said she sees it as a “good way to feel out what the public thinks.”

”It’s a step forward to find out what people think,” Gladziszewski said. “It’s a good solution to find out what people think to take action or not.”

The other ordinance passed Monday OK’s the city to contract out a third party to collect data that will count the number of short-term rentals in the area and then be used to assess if CBJ will need to put any additional regulations in place. Currently, the city holds no policy that requires short-term rentals, like Airbnb, to register with the city, but the data from the survey, it will serve as an opening point for the city to determine whether additional regulations should be implemented.

There was not much discussion on the topic as it passed through the Assembly on Monday night, but during a previous Assembly Finance Committee meeting in July which aimed at tackling issues surrounding the current lack of housing and affordable housing supply in Juneau, Assembly member Wade Bryson presented the ordinance and noted the assembly should wait to take action on it until after the Ironman competition. Others disagreed.

“What are we waiting for? There’s real desperation out there,” said Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale.

Bryson said the competition would skew the actual amount of people who rent as a business compared to casual “one-off” renting that he said the Ironman will likely bring.

Now adopted, the third-party surveying contractors — funded by the city’s hotel bed tax revenue funds — will collect data on the locations, ownership, nights rented and the monitoring of short-term rental websites as well. The city provided no timeline of when the surveying will begin to take place.

[Checking in? Hotel tax revenue this quarter expected to be the second-highest ever]

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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