The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly made some tough decisions during its Wednesday night Finance Committee meeting, including denying consideration of a few community requests for funding in next year’s budget.
Of the 10 requests sent to the Assembly from different community organizations — which ranged in financial asks of $15,000 up to $1.4 million — three were voted down, meaning they won’t be put on the Assembly’s pending list for further discussion and/or included in the finalized budget.
Assembly members voted to deny a $500,000 request from the Sealaska Heritage Institute, a $75,000 request from the Downtown Business Association and a $17,700 request from Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.
SHI’s request was for the Assembly to consider providing $500,000 to go toward funding the development and construction costs for renovating a downtown building near the Walter Soboleff Building that in February was purchased by SHI. The building is planned to house an expansion of a program that integrates Indigenous-based knowledge into sixth through 12th grade classrooms.
SHI, which is a Juneau-based nonprofit that focuses on protecting and perpetuating Southeast Alaska Native cultures, has yet to begin its renovations for the building, so in the meantime the building’s current renters are allowed to remain there until further notice.
Renters include the CBJ Finance Department and Human Resources Department.
On Wednesday night, Mayor Beth Weldon voiced her opposition to considering funding the project, saying that while she supports SHI’s vision to revive downtown, she felt the ask was “weird” given that the city currently rents the building that would be renovated.
“They bought the building that we have employees in, and now they want to give them $500,000 to remodel the building that they’re going to kick our employees out of,” she said. “To me, that’s just bizarre, and I’m sorry but I can’t support this.”
The request ultimately failed in a 4-4 vote with Weldon, Assembly members Greg Smith, Maria Gladziszewski and Carole Triem voting in opposition. Assembly members Alicia Hughes-Skandijs, Christine Woll, Wade Bryson and Michelle Bonnet Hale voted for it, and ‘Wáahlaal Gíídaak Barbara Blake was not present.
The second denied request for an additional $17,700 to the $184,300 already included in the proposed budget from the JAHC failed in a split of 4-4 with little discussion. Assembly members Hughes-Skandijs, Bryson, Triem and Mayor Weldon voted in opposition.
The final denied request of the list was from the Downtown Business Association for an additional $75,000 to its $90,000 already included in the proposed budget. The decision on whether to move it forward to the pending list generated the most robust conversation of the evening with Woll ardently expressing her opinion that the request should be funded or at least further discussed. She said that the amount asked by the DBA is the same as the association’s previous year’s request.
“I think this is most of DBA’s budget, and if we don’t talk about it, we’re just deciding to end them as an organization,” she said.
Triem objected to Woll’s motion, saying she wanted to stick with the decision made last year that the funding to the association was one-time funding, not recurring.
Woll’s motion to move it to the pending list failed 4-4 with Assembly members Bryson, Hughes-Skandijs, Triem and Mayor Weldon voting in opposition.
DBA did not respond to calls from the Empire seeking comment.
In an interview with the Empire Thursday morning, Woll said she was “frustrated” with the decisions made Wednesday night, and the process to deny requests without giving the community or requester a chance to speak on the request’s behalf.
“I think it’s hard to make decisions as a body of nine and when I look at the decisions we ended up making, I don’t think they reflect the priorities we have talked about,” she said. “The city does not have the resources to fund all requests, but we shouldn’t be deciding what to fund before we hear from the public and have a discussion.”
Woll said she hopes the Assembly will look to reconsider the denied requests before the budget is finalized.
Triem agreed with Woll’s frustration of the night, but said she stood by the decisions made and emphasized her opinion that the Assembly needs to choose to entertain certain requests while leaving others behind. She said the Assembly often spends most of the budget-making process focusing its time on smaller aspects of the budget, such as the community requests, rather than focusing on the “big picture” of the budget as a whole.
Triem said community requests are still able to be considered, or reconsidered, for the pending list despite the decision last night. Triem said all it takes for a request to be considered is for an Assembly member to make a motion to do so. However, she noted the three requests that were denied Wednesday evening will have a much more difficult time getting onto the pending list for a few reasons.
One of those reasons being the move by Assembly member Hale — after the decisions were made — to call for an immediate reconsideration of the three denied requests. However, that vote failed by a 4-4 vote, meaning the only way for the request to be moved to the pending list now is for the Assembly to then vote to suspend its rules to override the two failed votes.
The community requests moved to the pending list so far include:
— $1,020,000 requested by United Human Services of SE Alaska for an elevator at Dimond Park Field House.
— $70,000 requested by the Juneau Economic Development Council for operations and grant matching support.
— $336,000 requested by the Alaska Committee for server replacement, encoder/decoder streaming equipment replacement for Gavel Alaska.
— $234,094 requested by Alaska Heat Smart for operations.
— $15,000 requested by Juneau Commission on Aging for administrative support.
— $25,000 requested by the Juneau Nordic Ski Club for its campaign to replace and expand its fleet of trail grooming equipment.
— $1.4 million requested by Juneau Housing First for its phase three which plans to add 28 permanent supportive housing units in Juneau.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807.