The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly passed a number ordinances to appear on October’s ballot. Ordinances that will appear for public vote include a proposal to increase the rate for water and wastewater services by four percent next year and by two percent each year thereafter until 2024. The next ordinance increased the hotel tax from seven percent to nine percent.
The Assembly also passed ordinances calling for $7 million grant for renovations of Centennial Hall and a $4.5 million grant to help build the New Juneau Arts and Culture Center. All of these ordinances will be on the annual municipal ballot, along with elections for Assembly and Juneau Board of Education seats, on Oct. 1.
Within the Assembly, Jones once again had an objection to the ordinance as written, concerned with a situation where the ordinance to fund the New JACC passed, but the ordinance to fund repairs to Centennial Hall failed.
“That is our building, we own it, we are obligated to repair it,” said Assembly member Wade Bryson.
The ordinance was a contentious one, with almost every Assembly member having an objection of one facet or another.
“We have a responsibility to put before the voters clear, concise ordinances so they can make a choice,” Jones said.
Other Assembly members had issue with the complexity of the financial issues up for a vote.
“We’ve talked about this about 7,000 times and if we, at this late date, still need this cheat sheet, I don’t think it’s fair to be putting this in front of the voters,” Assembly member Carole Triem said.
The ordinance passed unanimously.
The construction of the New JACC could be supported by a $4.5 million grant from the sales tax fund, says ordinance 2019-34(c).
“This grant will serve as the leavening that makes the rest of the bread rise,” said Patricia Hall, a former trustee of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.
“I think we owe it to the young people in this community to provide this center now, while we can” said Bob James, testifying in favor of the amendment.
“I want to provide the young people who will be our teachers and our attorneys the chance to live in a beautiful, vibrant community,” James said, recalling how he’d gone to a high school dance in the JACC more than 50 years ago and how the building was exactly the same in size, looks, and smell.
Pam Watts, former head of a number of nonprofits, said that Juneau is currently losing revenue because the city lacks a large, convention-capable facility.
“We clearly need a performing arts center to grow our reputation,” Watts said.
“The acoustics are poor, the seating is inadequate, and Centennial Hall is also in need of renovation,” Watts said.
Watts also mentioned a serious mold issue in the JACC, echoed by a number of other members of the public.
Of the eight citizens testifying, however, only one spoke against the ordinance.
“I think the private sector really ought to step forward,” said Dennis Dewitt, saying that the private sector, not the public, ought to foot the whole bill, and that he would strive to defeat it if the ordinance was passed.
The Assembly discussed ordinance 2019-35(c), which would authorize the issuance of general obligation bonds in an amount no larger than $7 million to finance renovations to Centennial Hall.
Kathleen Harper, general manager of Centennial Hall, addressed the Assembly urging any funding possible for renovations to Centennial Hall.
“Anything that that makes the running of the building less expensive would be awesome,” Harper said. She added that aging infrastructure meant for high monthly operating costs.
“My major objection is that we do not have the ability to amend this ordinance,” said Assembly member Loren Jones, objecting to passage as is of the motion. Jones argued that the ordinance should have been for $10 million instead of $7 million.
“We may need to add some money to this later, because I think it is terribly underfunded,” Jones said.
The motion passed unanimously.
With the increase of volume, cost, and number of people staying in hotels, an increase in the hotel bed tax is unnecessary, said Carla Hart. She proposed to move two percent of the Travel Juneau budget to Centennial Hall instead of increasing the bed tax from seven percent to nine percent.
The goal of Travel Juneau is not attract cruise ship passengers, but instead to attract independent visitors to Juneau, said Liz Kiehne-Perry, CEO of Travel Juneau. “We do not spend a dime to attract cruise ship passengers,” Kiehne-Perry said.
Hale also brought up tracking mechanisms for Airbnb hosting properties. Deputy City Manager Mila Cosgrove said that they were able to track Airbnbs for the purposes of taxation.
The the motion to place the two percent hotel tax increase was passed unanimously.
City Manager Rorie Watt described ordinance 2019-31, where the city would raise the rates for water and wastewater utility services. Initial raise during 2020 would be a four percent increase. Following that, each year would see a two percent raise in rates until 2025. This increase in rates would help to pay for anticipated operating costs and allow for increased funding for capital improvements in the infrastructure.
“It was something we discussed a lot,” said Assembly member Michelle Hale. Hale said that the Assembly looked for ways to mitigate the damage it could do to less economically fortunate members of the community. Mayor Beth Weldon dissented from the initial four percent rate increase for the 2020, but was overridden 8-1.
“Any time you raise rates is difficult, but we’re trying to strike the right balance,” said Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski.
Members of the public are testifying on non-agenda issues, including congestion as a result of cruise traffic and the ownership of tourism companies in the Juneau area.
The Assembly meets tonight to discuss city issues and vote on ordinances to be placed on the municipal ballot.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.