If nothing changes, Juneau residents will pay more in property taxes because of uncertainty about how much state funding can be expected for school bond debt.
The same evening Gov. Mike Dunleavy called for a special session for the Legislature, City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee voted to leave its mill rate at its current level of 10.66 instead of a slight decrease to 10.56, which was previously discussed and was part of the city manager’s proposed budget.
That translates to about a 1 percent increase in property tax rates, which means homeowners with a $300,000 house could expect to pay an additional $30, said City Finance Director Bob Bartholomew. The city would expect to collect about $480,000 as a result of leaving the mill rate where it’s at.
“I would like that ear marked for either school bond debt because we’re not sure what the state’s going to do, or other capital projects,” said Mayor Beth Weldon, who made the motion that led to the mill rate ultimately recommended by the committee.
Weldon apologized to the residents because lower taxes would be nice, but uncertainty about much school bond debt will be shouldered by municipalities makes it impossible.
The state’s school bond debt program helps municipalities pay off debt from approved school-related projects. In Juneau, those include remodeling Auke Bay Elementary School and Sayéik Gastineau Community School.
Alaska Department of Education and Early Development figures put Juneau in line to be reimbursed $7,155,025 this year if the program is fully funded, but at least two state budget proposals don’t call for full funding.
Dunleavy’s proposed budget eliminated funding for the debt, the House of Representative’s budget cut half of the funding, and the Senate’s budget maintained full funding — about $99.8 million — for school bond debt.
Assembly members Wade Bryson and Michelle Bonnet Hale both said it’s too early to make a decision that may cause taxpayers unnecessary money since it is unknown what additional expense, if any, will fall to the city.
The Assembly is not required to set its mill rate until June 15, and Hale suggested calling a special meeting on June 11 to discuss the topic and set the rate in hopes that the state government’s decision will be either made or more clear.
Assembly members Maria Gladziszewski and Loren Jones said that would not leave much time, and the June 3 Assembly meeting would be a good time to discuss the mill rate and postpone a decision if necessary.
“They are a long way from getting anything determined in my belief, and that’s why I believe we should act on it tonight,” Weldon said. “I think we should take care of it tonight and move forward.”
That’s ultimately what happened after a 6-3 vote recommended the slightly higher rate.
Hale, Bryson and Assembly member Rob Edwardson voted against the motion, and Weldon, Gladziszewski and Assembly members Loren Jones, Carole Triem, Mary Becker and Alicia Hughes-Skandijs voted in favor of the motion.
No longer pending
The committee also meted out recommendations for funding for 16 different projects and organizations that had been awaiting a budgetary decision on the pending item list.
The highest cost item on the list was land purchase at over $1.51 million that will help accommodate a senior housing project.
The land would be about 2.39 acres at the Vintage Business Park, and it is being appraised to determine its final price tag. There were no objections to the including the purchase in the committee’s recommended budget.
“We’re supporting seniors, we’re supporting assisted living,” Weldon said. “From what I can see we’re either getting our seniors assisted living, or if that fails we can turn around and sell the land.”
Only three projects on the pending item list did not receive the full amount of funds under consideration.
A pair of 5-4 votes denied an additional $17,500 to the Youth Activities Board and $120,000 to Travel Juneau for enhanced marketing. The committee unanimously recommended $8,000 for Juneau Commission on Aging for JEDC for administrative costs rather than $10,000 that was on the pending item list based on a recommendation from Hughes-Skandijs, who is the liaison to the committee.
Edwardson, Hale, Triem, Jones and Weldon voted against the additional funding for the activities board, and Bryson, Becker, Gladziszewski and Hughes-Skandijs voted for it.
The item was moved to the pending items list after a motion by Gladziszewski at a previous committee meeting based on a request from a Youth Activities Board member.
Those who voted against it said it’s a good cause, but the full Youth Activities Board did not request the extra funding.
The Travel Juneau decision prompted a lot of discussion.
Bryson was adamantly in favor of providing the destination marketing organization more money, while other Assembly members said they would like to see more proof that it would be money well spent.
“If you want more money, this is how you get it,” Bryson said.
Edwardson Hughes-Skandijs, Gladziszewski, Weldon and Jones voted against the additional funding. Becker, Triem, Becker and Hale voted in favor.
At a previous committee meetings, $885,000 for Travel Juneau from hotel funds and a $325,460 Marine Passenger Fee grant were added to the budget.
Other approved items were $300,000 from the airport fund balance to help Juneau International Airport secure LEEDS certification for its terminal rebuild project, $300,000 for the Kinder Ready program, $89,800 for The Southeast Alaska Association for the Education of Young Children for its Hiring, Educating, and Retaining Teaching Staff program, $60,000 for manager review of child care, $150,000 for child care programs, $8,700 for Juneau Festival Committee, $23,908 for a Juneau Commission on Aging senior citizens survey, $20,000 for Southeast Conference’s Alaska Marine Highway System development work, $45,000 to the Juneau Community Foundation for a substance abuse study, $150,000 to JCF for the Glory Gall, $22,567 to Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies to help erect a healing totem and $100,000 to the Alaska Committee.
Sleep off switch up
The committee also recommended $800,000 to Capital City Fire/Rescue for operating the city’s the sleep off program. The program offers transportation to inebriated residents to a safe place to sleep off intoxication and is currently operated by Bartlett Regional Hospital.
Budgeting money for the program and essentially OK-ing the switch passed 7-2 with Jones and Bryson voting against it and Weldon, Triem, Becker, Edwardson, Hale, Gladziszewski and Hughes-Skandijs voting for it.
Bryson said the program is an inefficient use of funds, and he would like to find a more cost effective solution, and Jones reiterated his long-held position that operating the program is a community hospital’s responsibility.
Concerns about the cost were acknowledged by Weldon and Hughes-Skandijs — the hospital also received $800,000 to operate the program — but they said they were willing to see what the new program would look like and if it would actually require the fully budgeted $800,000.
“For now, I’m willing to give them a chance,” Weldon said.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.