A sign encouraging voters to vote yes on Proposition 4 stands at a busy Mendnehall Valley intersection. The proposition to repeal a city ordinance requiring buyers to disclose the sales price of real property has been a flashpoint in the municipal election with groups forming in support and opposition of the prop. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

A sign encouraging voters to vote yes on Proposition 4 stands at a busy Mendnehall Valley intersection. The proposition to repeal a city ordinance requiring buyers to disclose the sales price of real property has been a flashpoint in the municipal election with groups forming in support and opposition of the prop. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)

The disclosure dilemma

Supporters say it’s more accurate, opponents say it’s an invasion of privacy — voters will decide.

This year’s local election will put the fate of a hotly debated city policy in the hands of voters. A proposition will decide whether buyers in Juneau will need to disclose the sales price — among other information — to the City and Borough of Juneau when real property is sold.

The City and Borough of Juneau currently has a real estate mandatory disclosure policy which requires buyers in the area to disclose information to the city like the names of the seller and buyer, the actual amount paid or to be paid for the property, the terms of sale and the estimated value of any personal property included in the sale.

The policy, established by a 2020 ordinance, sets Juneau apart from most of Alaska as the state is among the 12 others in the country deemed “non-disclosure” states — meaning that the state government does not require disclosure of such information.

However, Alaska does leave the door open for local governments to self-determine within their boroughs. In this case, Juneau did so — and was the first city in Alaska to do so as well.

[Disclosure FAQ met with more questions]

The 2020 ordinance has been met with pushback since its enactment, and it was at first often ignored by buyers in the area. That significantly changed when the Assembly added a requirement of a $50-per-day fine to buyers who did not comply with the ordinance starting in late June of this year .

The decision to implement a fine was met with even more pushback and ultimately sparked a successful petition campaign for a ballot initiative that would reverse the ordinance which is what voters are being asked to decide. A group known as the Protect Juneau Homeowners’ Privacy led the signature-gathering effort and is the leading local group advocating for the repeal

The group “believes that this ordinance should have gone to the ballot and been voted on by the citizens of Juneau. We want to help educate our community about the ordinance and its impact on all that call Juneau ‘Home’,” according to its Alaska Public Offices Commission group registration.

Ann Sparks, a member of Protect Juneau Homeowners’ Privacy, the Southeast Alaska Board of Realtors 2023 president-elect and a real estate agent and Realtor for Platinum Keller Williams Alaska Group, said she will be voting yes for the repeal.

As of Sept. 15, Sparks filed two contributions from the Southeast Alaska Board of Realtors totalling $25,000 to go toward campaigning for the repeal by the Protect Juneau Homeowners’ Privacy group, according to APOC.

Sparks said the people participating in the campaign are doing so because they believe the ordinance infringes upon homeowners’ privacy. She said the main goal was to get the question on the ballot so that residents would have the ultimate say in what happens.

“We believe it’s our duty to educate the public so they understand the consequences of what this ordinance means,” she said. “You would think that the Assembly taking away the rights we inherently had before should be something that has to go on the ballot.”

She said advocating for homeowners is part of a Realtor’s duty and said the mandatory disclosure ordinance is negatively impacting Juneau’s housing market.

She said requiring disclosures opens a way for the city to start charging transfer taxes — a tax on the passing of title to property from one person to another, essentially a transaction fee — in the future, though Alaska doesn’t legally require a transfer tax at the moment.

“If a transfer tax happens it ultimately tacks on and makes housing prices go up even more and Alaska is so unique and so expensive already, to have a city inadvertently do something that could raise home values already more than they are already unaffordable, it’s just really something we’re trying to protect against,” she said.

Maria Gladziszewski, an Assembly member and deputy treasurer of Citizens for No on 4, which was formed to oppose the proposition, said the argument about the potential implementation of a transfer tax is “a complete red herring.” She said the Assembly has never discussed or considered such a tax, and it is not a move she believes the Assembly would take in the future.

“We don’t want it to be higher and we don’t want it to be lower — we just want it to be correct and have property values accurately reflect what the property is worth,” she said.

Sparks said she feels the city has not remained neutral in its stance, which the city is required to do per an early August decision that requires city staffers to refrain from advocating for or against the initiative.

Although Sparks said the information the city provided to residents has no explicit inaccuracies, she said she believes it “seemed to be written very one-sidedly toward the city’s position,” and said, “I feel it doesn’t tell the whole story and isn’t neutral at all.”

City Manager Rorie Watt said he believes the city did provide neutral and accurate information leading up to the election, and he said he encourages voters to listen to advocates on both sides.

“I think there are merits to both sides of the argument and I encourage people to try to understand the situation,” he said.

On the other end of advocacy on this topic, a group called Citizens for No on 4 is advocating for residents to vote no on the repeal and the group’s purpose, as written in its APOC group registration, is “to oppose Ballot Proposition No. 4 in the Juneau municipal election.”

Gladziszewski said she will be voting no for the repeal because she said the mandatory disclosure allows for the most accurate property assessments.

“It makes sure that the taxes are contributed correctly. It’s simply to make sure everyone’s property is assessed as accurately as possible in order to make sure that property taxes are distributed as they should be,” she said.

Gladziszewski said she believes mandatory disclosure is necessary to get “accurate and fair property assessments” and said repealing the ordinance would make the disclosure voluntary, which she described as “it’s like making the assessor do their job with their hands tied behind their back.”

She said residents need to weigh whether they believe privacy or accuracy is more important when deciding how they will vote on this proposition, and said she thinks accuracy via information from mandatory disclosure is the best option.

She said she thinks the argument about protecting privacy is “funny” because she said the Realtors already have the private information in their private database when making sales.

“It just really only benefits the real estate industry, they have that information, and they want to keep it to themselves,” she said.

Along with the advocacy groups, multiple opinion pieces and letters to the editors have been sent to the Empire in favor or against the proposition.

Mike Clemens, a Juneau resident, wrote in an opinion piece that voting yes on Proposition 4 would help put a lid on Assembly spending, and said if not repealed, residential property tax bills will gradually go up over time.

“The vote on Proposition 4 isn’t really about fairness or privacy, it’s about giving the Assembly more money to spend by raising property tax revenues,” he wrote.

On the other hand, Juneau resident Gary Miller said he plans to vote no on the repeal because he said the current code allows for better information to be given to the assessor’s office, which leads to more accurate assessments.

“It will give appraisers better information when you go to sell your home. I plan to vote ‘no’ on Proposition 4. I want accurate information when my house is assessed,” he wrote.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.

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