When I had the privilege of serving as Juneau mayor, part of my focus was to keep Juneau as affordable as possible, especially for young struggling families and seniors.
We should not be taking any more money from taxpayers than is necessary to fund government services. Juneau leads the state in housing, medical, food and transportation costs. Leaving more money where it belongs — in the hands of the people who earned it — is what should be done.
One of the biggest financial battles fought and lost in September of 2015 was over senior sales tax exemptions. Seniors were told the CBJ could not afford to continue these exemptions that were in place since the 1980s. In the end, sales tax exemptions for seniors on utilities and some food were the only exemptions left.
Four years later, the projected FY 20 carryover of surplus sales tax is projected to be over $10,000,000. Now, some of the same people who gutted the senior sales tax exemption want to use those dollars to help fund their pet projects.
I give credit to Mayor Merrill Sanford who before me began paying attention to our city’s debt. Through hard work and budget discipline by Assemblies, by the time we both left office, Juneau’s bonded indebtedness was reduced by millions. Last year alone, the debt service mill rate went down 7.7%.
At the same time, property assessments went up over 1%. Logically our millage rate and our property taxes should have gone down. This past budget cycle, the Assembly refused in a 4-4 vote to reduce the millage rate even though there was now $16 million in the city’s “rainy day “savings account and a very healthy surplus in the sales tax funds. Again, we took in more money than we needed to and left less money in the taxpayers’ pockets.
In my opinion, that money in the sales tax reserve built up by gutting the senior sales tax exemptions and underestimating sales tax revenue should be used to pay off Juneau’s school bond debt reimbursement that the state will no longer be paying. This year there will be an additional $3.5 million that the State of Alaska has passed on to the municipality to pay.
There is also at least $31 million that the Juneau School district has identified as needed school maintenance and upgrades. We own these building and are responsible for them. We need to take care of what we own. Sales tax should not be used to pay out $4.5 million of taxpayers’ money for a new JACC.
Does Juneau at this time need to take on a new JACC that we do not own and that does not pay sales tax or property tax and is more than twice the size of Centennial Hall? We do not.
We can and should continue to work on lowering the cost of living in Juneau — our housing, medical, grocery, and transportation costs and as we reduce our bonded indebtedness, we should be lowering our millage rate and leaving the money with the people who work so hard to earn it.
We can’t control the weather, or what might come down from the state or the feds.
But we can control local taxation. We do that when we vote.
I am voting no on Proposition 3.
• Ken Koelsch was mayor of Juneau from 2016-2018.