For the second year in a row, Juneau voters will be asked on the fall municipal election ballot whether to approve $27 million in bond debt to fund a project for a new City Hall — a question many residents argue has already been answered.
“The voters already said no — but here we are,” said David Ignell, a resident who testified in opposition to the proposition.
On Monday night the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly unanimously voted to approve the ballot proposition, which will be the only proposition on this year’s ballot. The question closely mirrors a proposal during last election to approve $35 million in bond debt for the City Hall project, which Juneau voters narrowly shot down.
The $27 million bond will only cover a portion of the project, City Manager Rorie Watt explained at the meeting. In total, the project — to be located downtown on 450 Whittier Street, across the street from the Alaska State Museum — is estimated to cost about $43.3 million.
The city has $16.3 million in general funds for the project already put aside, which would be in addition to the $27 million bond if approved by voters. The $16.3 million is made up of a $10 million allocation which is included in the city budget passed in June and $6.3 million appropriated by the Assembly in June of 2022.
City administration has long argued the new facility would have “a number of positive attributes” for both the city and residents, outlining benefits such as putting an end to the $800,000 the city pays in rent for the current City Hall, consolidating all municipal business in one location and freeing the city from the future high cost of maintenance estimated for the current City Hall.
However, some public commenters at the Monday night meeting disagreed the benefits were worth the high cost of the project.
Sally Wilson, a Juneau resident, said during public testimony she is concerned there are many more costs associated with the project that are not being made apparent to voters and she argued the city needs to present those costs more clearly.
“Let’s include all of the initial costs, and costs such as canceling the rental agreements that exist in some of the buildings that we’ve been renting for at least three years. What about the cost of disposing of City Hall? What are we gonna do with it? How much will it cost to renovate it to get it into a sellable position?” she said.
“I’m not advocating for City Hall, I’m not advocating against City Hall,” she said. “But I do want to stress the importance of trying to present all of the financial costs and benefits related to this project.”
Greg Adler, another resident, spoke in opposition to the project, and most of his testimony centered around how he felt the project has been “politicized” by city administrators. Alder further accused the city manager of unethical behavior to promote the project, arguing his “political influence has corrupted the process.”
Alder also criticized the Assembly’s previous motion in June to allow the city to spend $50,000 to “advocate for and provide public information regarding the need for a new City Hall.”
Watt said after the meeting that he had no comment on Adler’s remarks.
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