A mature bald eagle perches on a piling outside of the Douglas Harbor in August 2004. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file)

A mature bald eagle perches on a piling outside of the Douglas Harbor in August 2004. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire file)

Hot topics at City Hall include school facilities, sales tax money

Sometimes it can be hard to keep track of all the things the City and Borough of Juneau is doing. Around the first and fifteenth of every month, I’ll be shedding light on ongoing issues and upcoming topics that I think will be of interest to the public.

School facilities

Demographic and economic changes are big drivers in the state. Like a lot of the country, our population is aging and that change is happening at a time when the state has significantly fewer financial resources. Locally, an aging population means that we have fewer kids in the school system.

There’s been plenty of discussion about the Juneau School District’s operating budget, and the pressure it puts on classroom size and the number of teachers that we can afford. But, there’s been less focus on school facilities, yet our buildings face the same funding challenges. Juneau schools have been built and renovated through a State program that pays for up to 70 percent of the cost, but the state has temporarily (for the foreseeable future) closed the program. That means we have no funding stream to maintain and upgrade our facilities, and everyone knows that our schools get a lot of use, a lot of wear and tear.

I encourage you to follow the joint Assembly and School Board Facilities Committee. It’s in the process of evaluating our school facilities and our economic ability to keep them in good functional shape. The joint committee met this week on Wednesday and recently received a draft summary of findings from its contractor regarding a facility master plan. There’s still a lot more of the process to come.

One percent sales tax

Right now, CBJ’s sales tax is 5 percent. Through successive ballot measures, 1 percent of that has been dedicated to funding facility and infrastructure maintenance as well as new facilities. In October 2018, that one percent is set to end unless voters decide again to extend it.

Much of our infrastructure was built in the 1980s and, like all aging facilities, needs work and updating. The cost of maintaining and upgrading our water and wastewater systems, our harbors, airport, Augustus Brown pool and Centennial Hall will feature prominently in Assembly discussions, which started this week. The Assembly has a tough job to do to balance all of our needs. If you’re interested in this issue, pay attention to Assembly Finance Committee meetings.

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