Empire Live: Finance Committee looks at health care, school bonds and Centennial Hall

There’s a lot on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting

Summary: After a packed night, the Finance Committee adjourns having sent ordinances for funding Centennial Hall repairs, paying school bond debt, and enacting a remote sales tax. The committee also showed significant interest in enacting mandatory disclosure laws on lands sales in the borough, something which will be considered at a committee meeting in March.

Read the Empire’s additional coverage of the meeting.

7:50 p.m.

Jones asks Rogers and other city staff to come back with more information on the effects of mandatory disclosure laws. That information will be presented to the Finance Committee in March which will give plenty of time to consider the issue.

There will most likely be a lot of public reaction, Jones says, and having that information presented in March would allow for taking that into account.

7:45 p.m.

Alaska does not have mandatory disclosure laws of any kind for property sales between private parties, one of only six states to do so. Having mandatory disclosure laws help provide more accurate property value information to governments and the public, advocates say, according to Rogers.

It’s detractors say that disclosure laws do not necessarily reflect true property values, Rogers says.

Having looked at the issue, Rogers says he came away with the unequivocal opinion that mandatory disclosure laws were in the public interest. However, the need for privacy is something that needs to be thoroughly considered, he said.

Gladziszewski says she supports the idea but wants to find a way to “thread the needle” for protecting people’s privacy.

Rogers says that disclosure laws may not necessarily raise property taxes. The sales price of a property is one piece of information a tax assessor uses to determine the value of a property, he says.

Several Assembly members say they are in favor of an ordinance mandating disclosure laws, but want to find a way to keep the information private.

7:25 p.m.

City Manager Rorie Watt told the committee that in subsequent conversations with Torrey Pines Development, the company which would build a senior living home in Vintage Park, the company said it would not be financially viable if the city were to loan the company $2 million, even at no interest.

The Assembly needs to decide if it wants to grant the $2 million to the company for the construction of the facility. Assembly member Rob Edwardson says he believes the grant would be worth it to see the project completed.

Torrey pines also suggested a $6.5 million loan, at interest, with a balloon payment later would also help them make the project work.

Committee passes a motion to create an ordinance for a $2 million grant, with $1.6 million coming from the city’s general fund and $400,000 from the Affordable Housing Fund. Motion passes.

7:13 p.m.

Bryson moves for a motion to allocate $4 million in sales tax revenue and $2.5 million in hotel bed taxes, the two taxes approved by voters, to fund renovations to Centennial Hall.

7:10 p.m

After a short break, the committee is back to talk about funding for Centennial Hall improvement projects.

Based on new taxes voted in by the city in the municipal election in October, the city has a few options to fund renovations for Centennial Hall, Rogers says.

The voters approved the city to take up to $7 million in bond debt to fund the repairs, to be paid for by the increase in taxes. Because the proposition for the new Juneau Arts and Culture Center didn’t pass, the $4 million allocated for that project can be put to Centennial Hall.

6:40 p.m.

“We have about 16.5, 17 million in the unrestricted fund balance,” Jones says, and the committee needs to decide where the Fiscal Year 2020 payment for school bonds is going to come from.

A motion is entered to pay the debt from the unrestricted fund balance. No objections.

6:30 p.m.

In order to repay $3.5 million needed for school bonds, the committee needs to decide whether it wants to use the unrestricted general fund or the restricted general fund. Raising property taxes to increase revenue to cover the costs is a discussion for another time, Assembly member Loren Jones says.

In his 2020 budget, Gov. Mike Dunleavy cut state repayments to school bond debt, placing the financial burden on local municipalities.

Committee members say they don’t want to default on the loans, which means taking money from one of the city’s reserve accounts, Jones says.

6:20 p.m.

“Is the exemption of sales tax on remote sales a public good,” Finance Director Jeff Rogers asks the committee to consider. “I don’t think that it is.”

Rogers is explaining the implementation of remote sales tax, or the taxing of online vendors who sell products in Alaska. Some vendors, namely Amazon, already pay taxes, Rogers says. But for other online companies the collection of remote sales tax is about fairness to local businesses, Rogers argues.

Committee member Maria Gladziszewski moves to send an ordinance implementing a remote sales tax onto the regular assembly. Motion receives no opposition.

You can read the Empire’s previous article about remote sales tax here.

5:50 p.m.

Jennifer Mannix, risk management officer for the City and Borough of Juneau, and Dallas Hargrave, CBJ human resources and risk management director, are giving the committee an overview of the city’s Risk Management Fund. Part of what the fund does covers health benefits for city employees and national trends are increasing costs.

Costs of pharmaceuticals are increasing as well as a general cost of health care nation wide, according to the presentation shown to committee members. A smaller pool of insured people is creating more volatility in the market.

The Risk Fund also covers city employee worker’s compensation claims. Across the state, costs for worker’s compensation are rising despite lower rates of incidents.

5:30 p.m.

There’s a lot on tonight’s agenda including funding for Centennial Hall and school bond debt reimbursement. Later in the evening the committee is going to look at how Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget is going to affect Juneau.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.

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