If you had $60 million to improve Juneau how would you spend it?
Voters will be asked again this fall if they want to extend a 1% temporary sales tax for another five years and city leaders are in the process of making a priority list of how the money would be spent if approved. In the past it’s been used for improvements ranging from wastewater treatment to child care to performing arts, and during the coming years might help fund things ranging from new police radios to affordable housing to a new City Hall.
There’s what Mayor Beth Weldon calls a “starting list” of possible priorities. But extensive feedback and evaluation by Assembly members and city administrators is expected before a final list must be drafted by July 11 in order for an ordinance to be approved at the Assembly’s Aug. 1 meeting putting the extension on the Oct. 4 municipal ballot.
“It could be a complicated process,” City Manager Rorie Watt told Assembly members meeting as the Committee of the Whole last Monday. “You’re likely to have all kinds of views on projects for funding.”
Voters have been asked to renew the tax — an add-on to the permanent 4% sales tax — and a list of projects generally at five-year intervals since the early 1990s. The most recent vote in 2017 extending the tax until Sept. 30, 2023 was approved by a vote of 5,425-1,561, and the extension sought this October would generate an estimated $55 million to $60 million until 2028.
Watt said different CBJ Assemblies have had different approaches for using the tax to fund capital improvement and one-time projects, with the current body focusing more than others on state legislative and federally supported items. Among the general goals he suggests Assembly member follow is projects reducing ongoing operating costs, that cannot be included in the regular capital improvement projects process and providing “for needs that are certain to require future funding.”
Among the proposed items on the current starting list for the temporary tax are $8 million for maintenance of city facilities and infrastructure, $6.3 million for a new City Hall (including the possibility of renovating the existing one), $5 million for expanding State Office Building parking, $5 million in harbor project and matching funds, and $5 million for parks, trails and sportsfields.
It also includes smaller items such as $1.2 million to replace fire department ladder trucks and $2 million to replace the Juneau Police Department’s radio system.
The full starting list totals more than the funds expected to be available, but of those not receiving new tax funds all but one have existing fund balances. The exception is the installation of a new gondola at Eaglecrest Ski Area, although city officials are in negotiations with Goldbelt Inc. for up to $10 million in funds in exchange for the company receiving a portion of summer revenues.
City officials are working with various agencies on their funding priorities for the tax, but “I think at minimum there ought to be a period where people are encouraged to contact you,” Watt told the Assembly members.
Weldon noted the Assembly is in the middle of its two-and-a-half-month process of determining next year’s city budget “so we’re hearing from a lot of different entities as it is.” Assembly member Carole Triem said she wants to make sure members evaluate worthy projects beyond those with higher profiles getting consideration due to their inclusion on things such as the legislative priority list.
“I’d be curious to hear if there are some needs out there at CBJ that aren’t as shiny and don’t get our attention the way some other projects do,” she said.
Watt recommended the Committee of the Whole finalize the list during its June 6 and 27 meetings, and agencies and others seeking inclusion should submit their final requests to the city manager’s office a week before the first meeting.
Assembly member Alicia Hughes-Skandijs suggested the city’s public relations department issue an advisory now to all interested parties to get their requests in on time.
“That’s a good idea,” Weldon said. “Make it so, mister manager.”
Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org.