The City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Monday passed three ordinances pertaining to funding the New Juneau Arts and Culture Center and Centennial Hall renovations, which will now appear on the upcoming Oct. 1 municipal ballot.
Voters will ultimately decide the fate of funding for the New JACC and Centennial Hall through grants, as well as an ordinance to increase the hotel tax from 7 to 9 percent to help fund Centennial Hall renovations. The Assembly also passed a nonvoting ordinance increasing the rates for water and wastewater services by 4 percent in 2020 and by 2 percent every year after until 2024.
“I want to provide the young people who will be our teachers and our attorneys the chance to live in a beautiful, vibrant community,” said Bob Janes, one of eight local residents who stood up and testified to the Assembly about the ordinance to fund the New JACC. He was among a few dozen people who attended the meeting in the crowded Assembly chambers.
An ordinance called for a $4.5 million grant to fund construction of the New JACC, the replacement for the aging JACC in use since the 1960s. The hope of many who testified is that the rest of the funding would come from public donations. The Partnership for the New JACC has already raised nearly $6 million of the $26.4 million price tag for the proposed new structure, and many hope that with a concrete commitment from the city, the rest of the donations needed to fully fund the project will come through.
“This grant will serve as the leavening that makes the rest of the bread rise,” said Patricia Hall, a former trustee of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.
Those in favor of supporting the new JACC said the facility is needed to support the arts and culture scene in Juneau and to provide the city with modern convention center and assembly area.
“We clearly need a performing arts center to grow our reputation,” said Pam Watts, former head of a number of local nonprofits.
Watts said that the city was losing revenue because it doesn’t have a building capable of holding large conferences or conventions.
Only one person spoke against the ordinance, saying he’d fight it all the way if it was approved, as it was.
“I think the private sector really ought to step forward,” said Dennis DeWitt, saying the public ought not foot any of the bill.
Support for the ordinance was broad but complicated from within the Assembly itself, as nearly every member had objections, small or large, to the language or methodology of the ordinance. The largest issue, in an objection raised by Assembly member Loren Jones, was tying the success of the New JACC ordinances to the success of other ordinances pertaining to Centennial Hall. His proposed amendment to the ordinance was shot down, 6-3, and the ordinance went forward as-is.
“We have a responsibility to put before the voters clear, concise ordinances so they can make a choice,” Jones said.
Another ordinance called for a $7 million grant to fund renovations for Centennial Hall, which is desperately in need of overhaul in order to reduce steep operating costs and extend its useful lifespan, said Kathleen Harper, general manager of the building.
“Anything that makes the running of the building less expensive would be awesome,” Harper said.
The other two ordinances on the table, for increasing the hotel bed tax from 7 to 9 percent for 15 years, and to increase rates for water and wastewater services by 4 percent next year and 4 percent for the 4 years thereafter, passed with minimal incident or opposition. Mayor Beth Weldon voted against the water and wastewater rate increase, but it was approved 8-1.
The nonvoting ordinance increasing rates on water and wastewater services will hopefully be balanced by a fee on recycling that expires as the same time, meaning the cost to residents should stay close to the same, said Assembly member Carole Triem.
Three of the four ordinances will be up for public vote on the municipal ballot this October. The public will also vote for four Assembly seats, and for two Board of Education seats. The election is Oct. 1.
• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org.