For the first time since 2015, no ballot initiatives will go before voters in this fall’s municipal election.
The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly voted down four possible ballot measures at Monday night’s meeting, shifting responsibility to a future Assembly that will look very different from the current one.
The proposals on the table Monday were: two options for the city partially funding construction of a new Juneau Arts and Culture Center; a proposal to raise the hotel/motel head tax by 2 percent; and a reconsideration of a resolution in support of funding a child care program.
After the resignation of former Assembly members Norton Gregory and Beth Weldon, there are currently seven people on the Assembly. According to city charter code 3.12 (f)(1), there must be five votes in favor of an agenda item for it to pass, even if there are fewer than nine members.
In two of Monday’s four votes —one of the options to support the new JACC with public funds and one to reconsider providing funding for the Best Starts child care program — the majority of sitting Assembly members voted in favor of putting the items on the ballot. Even with the 4-3 votes, though, the majority was still one vote short of putting the issues in the hands of the voters. In both of those votes, Mayor Ken Koelsch, Deputy Mayor Jerry Nankervis and Assembly member Mary Becker voted against.
Discussion was particularly divided on the subject of providing funding for the new JACC via property tax revenue.
One of the main arguments proponents made in favor of providing funding for the new JACC was that usually with similar projects, there is at least a portion of public funding. The proposal on the table was to provide $7.5 million to the JACC, which has an advertised price tag of about $31 million (about 24 percent).
This investment, Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski said, was a better deal than many similar projects over the years, but the dissenting voters expressed that they thought it was still too much to ask from taxpayers.
A Committee of the Whole meeting preceded the Assembly meeting, which allowed members of the public to share their thoughts on the public funding of the new JACC. Nineteen people testified at the Committee of the Whole meeting, most of whom were in favor of the committee approving the ballot measure that would commit the most money to the project. Supporters came primarily from the business community and arts community.
Assembly member Loren Jones, who has been vocally in favor of raising the hotel/motel bed tax throughout the process, again spoke at length in favor. He said he wasn’t convinced that raising the tax would actually discourage visitors from coming to Juneau, but he was outvoted, as Assembly member Jesse Kiehl joined Becker, Koelsch and Nankervis in voting against the measure.
The final action of the night was an attempt from Gladziszewski to get the Assembly members to reconsider its earlier vote to not put the child care initiative on the ballot. That initiative would have proposed using property tax revenue to fund Juneau Best Starts, a program that aims to better prepare children for kindergarten.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.