Jeff Jones: Assembly Areadwide Candidate
Occupation: Account Executive
Bio shared by candidate: “As a 31+ year resident of the City of Juneau, and raising two children, while working in the trades for Cameron Plumbing and Heating, I think it’s time for me to give back to a community that has given me and my family so much over the years. I am currently working for Long Building Technologies as an Account Executive. My position within Long, allows me to stay connected with the community as I reach out to local businesses to provide them with our services. I stay involved with Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 262 as an Executive Board member, to try and help the youth of Juneau understand the need for skilled labor in the State of Alaska. I feel the time I have lived in Juneau helps me understand the needs of our community and running for the Assembly is one way to give back.”
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you want to be a member of the Juneau Assembly?
I’ve been in Juneau for well over 30 years and I just feel it’s time to give back to the community that’s given us so much. I think it’s a good way to do it. Plus whenever I complain about how the city’s spending their money, if I don’t want to get involved and try to help change that, I gotta stop complaining, right? So that’s the biggest reason.
Describe your knowledge and involvement with Juneau’s municipal government and what you think the strengths and weaknesses of it are based on those experiences.
Honestly, I don’t have a lot of experience with them. Other than I’ve been to a few of their Assembly meetings, and sat in on meetings and things, but I have not really been involved, per se. So as far as how everything operates, I’m kind of going in a little dark, but it’s
nothing I can’t learn.
Are you against, or in favor of the proposal for a new City Hall? What are your thoughts on the decision by the Assembly to both put it on the ballot again after it failed, and to fund an advocacy initiative?
I think, “Do we need one?” Probably. But not at this time. I think there are better ways to spend the money. So I’m not for it at this particular time. I think it’s too soon. But obviously, my personal opinion is they’re trying to ram it down our throats anyway. I mean they just threw another $10 million at it. So that kind of says whether the direction they’re going.
What is your assessment of how much the city taxes its residents versus the amount of public services it provides to them? Specifically outline what adjustment in each of those areas you’d advocate changing as a member of the Assembly.
Sales tax, I’ve got a couple of ideas on how to curb some of that a little bit. But it does require some merchant help, so to speak. You know we’re looking at 1.6 million passengers coming to Juneau this year and to me that seems like it’s an awful lot. But if that’s the case I would love to see a temporary 3% sales tax added during tourist season, with locals exempt. We’ve maintained our 5%. But add that 3% — it’s only a small amount per person — but if you’re looking at 1.6 million passengers that’s a lot of money.
We can do a lot with that money. The head tax with the cruise industry is supposed to be put back into tourism. Well there’s got to be some loopholes in there somewhere that state we can use that for other things like roads.
There are some things there, I would love to see this increase the head tax increase to $25. I know personally it wouldn’t stop me from going on a cruise. We’ve got to work our way around how to use that money because the tourists use our roads. How many buses go up and down the road every day? That’s good infrastructure money to rebuild our roads.
One of the things is life safety. So we’ve got our police and fire that is severely underfunded. I just had a meeting with the Central Labor Council. Both their unions told us they’re at least six officers short in town. They have four ambulances in town, they can’t run them all because they don’t have enough EMTs. So, again, that goes right back to the City Hall, that $10 million, could do some pretty good funding for our health and safety. So I think that something’s got to give there. It’s definitely something that we need to look at.
I think we have to eliminate the sales tax on food. I think that’s something that really needs to be dove into. I think if we could eliminate that sales tax cap and be able to remove sales tax on food, I think it would be a great idea. The other issue, obviously, is property taxes have gotten way out of hand.
You know, Juneau has done something that’s kind of odd so they’ve kept a mill rate so it can’t go any higher than 12. What happens when you cap a mill rate is now you’ve got to make property values increase in order to gain tax revenue, rather than leaving stable home prices and raising your mill rate to gain that tax rate. Now you’re having to raise property values. And that’s gotten way out of hand. There is not an overnight cure for that at all. Unfortunately, it’s a very long process. But I do think it is there. There could be something worked out where the city doesn’t lose tax revenue, but maybe we get the cost of housing and check. So I think there’s something we could do there too.
How can the Assembly better balance the growing cruise ship tourism industry’s impact on the quality of life of residents, specifically regarding affordable housing, environmental impact and overall cost of living?
Well, this is really a double-edged sword. I mean one thing is that you don’t want to limit how somebody can make their living in Juneau, I mean it’s very expensive, so tourism is huge. We need tourism. One of the things that I see, based on the industry that I’m in, some of those buildings go vacant during the winter. That means the owners of those buildings are taking the money out of Juneau and leaving. We need to focus on getting more Juneau businesses in the downtown area where the money stays in Juneau and maybe they stay open.
So it’s really tough to say, “Oh, you can only have this many tourists come into town,” or “We’re only going to be able to allow 1 million passengers this year” and “Oh, by the way, if you’ve met your quota in middle of the summer, you have to stop working.” That doesn’t work for me. I don’t know what the answer is. But I know there’s got to be something out there. I’ll be honest, I don’t like going downtown in the summertime. You know we’ve tried to go down to the tram two or three times and it’s never opened for locals.
We can also release some of the property that the city owns. We’ve got supply and demand. There are no homes available. So rents are high. We have more houses available, and I don’t know how many thousands of acres the city is sitting on, but I would assume it’s a fair number and that’s a lot of housing. I don’t know where that land is. And how developable it is. Definitely would be something to look at more housing, make it a little more affordable for everybody to live.
Are there any substantial matters that we didn’t get around to talking about that you think is pertinent to discuss?
Controlling spending. I mean, one of my points of contention is the gondola. I mean, how many millions are we gonna spend on that? How much are we going to have to spend to put it in? I’ve heard numerous horror stories about it. A lot of people have told me that thing will probably rot where it’s sitting and we’re into it for how many millions already? Quite a bit.
I’d advocate for us to get rid of it. I know that’s not gonna sit well with a lot of people. Yeah, but it’s a waste of money.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651) 528-1807.