Michelle Bonnet Hale

Michelle Bonnet Hale

Opinion: Voting no on disclosure repeal is about fairness

True assessments and accurate property taxes cut both ways.

  • By Michelle Bonnet Hale
  • Thursday, August 25, 2022 10:38am
  • Opinion

It’s about fairness.

As a member of the Juneau Assembly, I voted in 2020 for mandatory disclosure of real estate prices. The assessor is required by state law to assess properties in Juneau accurately. Yet only some property owners — buyers or sellers — report the sales price. The assessor is left working with “one hand tied behind their back,” without the tools to do the job of accurately assessing property and home values.

In Juneau, disclosure of real estate prices is withheld for higher value properties more often than for lower value properties. Some people are hesitant to reveal the sales price because they want to keep their assessment low and thus their property taxes lower. The result: The relative property tax burden is shifted to those who own lower-priced and moderately priced homes or properties. And this isn’t fair.

In 2022, I voted for penalties for those who refuse to obey CBJ law by not disclosing sales prices. I have no desire to penalize anyone, but I do have a strong desire for our system to be fairly applied. I have a strong desire to help those at the lower end of the economic spectrum succeed in Juneau.

True assessments and accurate property taxes cut both ways. The CBJ Assembly is responsible for setting the mill rate, or the percentage tax on property. When assessed values increase, it is the Assembly’s responsibility to look hard at the mill rate — can it be lowered? Sometimes not, because costs and therefore city expenses go up just as assessed values go up. But it’s the Assembly’s responsibility to take that hard look. For the past two budget cycles, the Assembly has reduced or maintained the mill rate, admittedly making only small changes but demonstrating, I believe, a pattern of mill rate reductions that can be followed in the future.

Coupled with this willingness to seriously consider the mill rate should be a willingness to take a fresh look at how the CBJ Assembly manages the budget reserve. In my opinion, the Assembly has a responsibility to Juneau taxpayers to determine what a sufficient budget reserve is, and what actions we will take when the budget reserve exceeds what we determine to be sufficient. The Assembly has expressed interest in taking this fresh look and I believe that the sidebars we can create will provide us better information as we look at the mill rate with an eye toward reducing it.

It’s important to clarify one point regarding advocacy for real estate disclosure. At the Assembly meeting where the ordinances allowing CBJ staff to advocate were voted down, confusion reigned regarding who could or could not advocate. CBJ staff cannot – the Assembly said no, primarily because we felt it inappropriate for staff to take political positions. As an elected Assembly member, however, I can advocate and in this column I am doing so, advocating for a no vote on the repeal of mandatory real estate disclosure.

Lastly, please vote. With unchallenged Assembly and School Board seats, this year’s municipal election is something of a sleeper election. But please vote. There are important ballot measures – this one about real estate disclosure, the 1% sales tax re-authorization, a park improvement bond, and the new City Hall bond measure. Voting is as essential this year as it is in all years.

• Michelle Bonnet Hale is a homeowner in Juneau serving her fourth year on the Assembly. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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