Last-minute changes on the table for JACC ballot proposal

Assembly could reduce money voters could commit to Centennial Hall, new JACC

An artist rendering of the New JACC. (Courtesy image)

An artist rendering of the New JACC. (Courtesy image)

The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members are running out of time to make adjustments to possible ballot measures for the Oct. 2 election. But that won’t stop them from trying.

Wednesday’s Assembly Finance Committee meeting was for tuning up ballot proposals before they go to the Assembly for final approval, but committee member Beth Weldon proposed making a few key changes to one ballot measure.

The proposal would have the city assist with renovations to Centennial Hall and the construction of the new Juneau Arts and Culture Center with a $12 million general obligation bond. It would also shift ownership of the new JACC to the city.

What Weldon proposed was reducing that amount to $9 million and keeping the new JACC privately owned. This $9 million would be paid through a combination of sales tax revenue, hotel tax revenue and bonds, Weldon’s amended proposal read.

Many Assembly members and JACC proponents in the audience were surprised by the motion, especially with it coming so late in the process. The Assembly is set to make a final decision on ballot proposals at its Aug. 13 meeting, and the ballot gets printed Aug. 28.

“I also was not a big fan of us owning the facility, so I appreciate all of that,” Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski said. “It’s just a big change to absorb.”

The Assembly members agreed by a 6-2 vote to take a look at Weldon’s new proposal while not ruling out the original $12 million bond proposal. There likely will have to be a special meeting to make time for the discussion before the Aug. 28 deadline, Finance Director Bob Bartholomew said.

Committee chair Jesse Kiehl and Assembly member Norton Gregory were the two dissenting voters. Kiehl expressed doubts about the feasibility of the newly proposed plan. Gregory was vehement that with other projects including airport renovations and a Housing First expansion, the new JACC is “a want, not a need,” and that the city should focus its money elsewhere.

That initial proposal stems from a June 13 Finance Committee meeting, when JACC organizers made a request to the city to help with funding of the facility and with Centennial Hall renovations.

The new JACC, which will stand on basically the same space as the current JACC, has a price tag of about $31 million, the organizers said during that June 13 meeting. Construction is supposed to start in 2019 and last about two years, organizer Bud Carpeneti said during that meeting.

Earlier in Wednesday’s meeting, the committee briefly discussed two other possible ballot measures, and both will be heading to the Assembly for approval.

One measure, a proposed 2 percent increase to the hotel tax (the amount of tax a hotel guest pays to stay in town), was already set for public hearing at the Aug. 13 meeting.

Another ballot measure, which would commit money from property tax revenue to a pre-kindergarten program, will also go to the Assembly for final approval. The program, Juneau Best Starts, aims to better prepare children before they go into kindergarten.

This proposal asks the public if about $2.8 million in funding should be paid for with property tax revenue. The committee members made a couple small tweaks to the wording of the ballot measure to help make it clearer for voters, but did not make any substantive changes.

Mayor Ken Koelsch was the one dissenting vote, saying he believes the city should commit resources specifically to child care instead of trying to mix child care and education. Koelsch pointed to Juneau’s recent losses in population and jobs and said resources should be devoted to promoting economic development at that level.

Assembly member Loren Jones disagreed, saying investing in early childhood education can benefit the economy quickly.

“This is where we can invest in economic development,” Jones said. “We can maybe stop families from leaving, we can add people to the workforce for the child care and free up families to go into the workforce. I think that’s important for us.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.

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