After Juneau voters narrowly shot down a ballot proposal last election to approve $35 million in bond debt to fund the majority of the construction cost for a new City Hall, the city is considering putting the question back on the ballot — with a lower price tag.
At the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Committee of the Whole on Monday evening, Assembly members unanimously OK’d an ordinance that, if passed by the full Assembly, would again ask Juneau voters during the upcoming municipal election whether to approve $27 million in bond debt to fund the construction of a new City Hall — $8 million reduction from the previously voted-down proposed amount last fall.
Prior to the vote, City Manager Rorie Watt said he would advocate for the Assembly to put the revised question to voters, saying it’s not uncommon for larger ballot proposals to take multiple attempts and alterations.
“Do it right, do it once and use it for 100 years,” Watt said.
In mid-May, the Assembly Finance Committee previously OK’d $10 million in funding toward a City Hall project in the city’s spending plan for the next fiscal year. The final approval of the budget is expected in mid-June.
If approved, the $10 million would be in conjunction with $6.3 million appropriated by the Assembly for the project back in June of 2022 for a total of around $16 million in cash ready to be allocated for a new City Hall project or to go to the current City Hall. The city pays $820,000 in rent annually for the current City Hall, which is expected to need multi-million dollars in repairs in the coming decade.
Assembly member Wade Bryson made a motion to lower the $27 million ask down to $23 million, stating the $4 million reduction would cut the proposed underground parking currently included in the construction of a new City Hall.
He said the reduction would signal the city has “listened to voters” who opposed the high price of last year’s proposal, and the reduction is “one action” the Assembly can take now to make it easier to convince voters to approve the proposal during the upcoming election.
Assembly members Michelle Bonnet Hale, Carole Triem and Maria Gladziszewski disagreed, citing the already limited number of parking spaces downtown as the reason behind their support for the underground parking despite the $4 million cost associated with it.
“It’s a different year and we have more information,” Gladziszewski said. “I think this is a building we’re going to use for a long time and it’s going to need parking.”
Triem agreed and said she was “torn,” but argued if the city hopes to have the new City Hall be used in perpetuity it “should do it right the first time” by including the parking, which she noted cannot be built in retroactively.
According to Katie Koester, the city’s engineering and public works director, if the new City Hall was built at the same location proposed last election — along Whittier Street, across the street from the Alaska State Museum — it would reduce the parking in the area by 63 spots. The proposed underground would add 38 new spots, but there would still be a net loss of 18 spots if the site is chosen and passed by voters.
Bryson’s motion failed 1-8, with him being the only member voting in favor of the reduction.
The Assembly vote, which will ultimately determine if voters will indeed see the question back on the ballot for the October election, is scheduled to take place at the July 10 regular Assembly meeting. Residents will be able to share public comments on the proposal during that meeting as well.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807.