A draft ‘shopping list’ of 18 items costing about $60 million that local residents would approve of by extending the city’s temporary 1% sales tax for another five years was compiled by Assembly members on Monday. of the city and borough of Juneau.
Top of the list are $9.9 million for building maintenance projects, $4.15 million for the Affordable Housing Fund, $2.5 million for child care assistance and $5 million for maintenance/repair of major parks and recreation.
Other big ticket items include $5 million for additional parking for the State Office Building, $5 million for school district facilities, $6.5 million for port projects, and $4 million to expand and install a bend on avenue Gastineau.
A final slate must be drawn up by July 11 for an ordinance to be approved at the August 1 Assembly meeting that puts the extension to the October 4 municipal ballot. Voters were asked to renew the tax, an addition to the permanent 4% sales tax, and a list of projects generally at five-year intervals since the early 1990s.
Assembly members spent nearly three hours in a full committee meeting evaluating an initial priority list of 27 items totaling about $113 million, more than double what the temporary sales tax is expected to generate. . As such, Mayor Beth Weldon spent much of the evening proposing to reduce or eliminate funds for items on the prioritized list, leading the effort to include as many items as the revenue available. allow it.
“As in the past, I prefer capital projects, deferred maintenance, big things that can’t be funded in different ways,” she said.
For example, Weldon proposed reducing the priority allocation for building maintenance to $8 million from $9.9 million. It was defeated by a 5-4 vote, as was a “compromise” by Assemblyman Wade Byrson to allocate $9 million by a 7-2 vote.
Weldon has also faced fierce opposition for proposing the elimination of $3 million for affordable housing, while acknowledging that it is a sensitive subject and a worthy cause. But the list of priority projects notes that $5 million is already allocated for this purpose in the current fiscal year, and the work is for unspecified projects that are not upgrades or maintenance.
Assemblyman Maria Gladziszewski said “affordable housing is our No. 1 priority – the purpose (of funding) is to be there when good projects come along”. Alicia Hughes-Skandijs was among six other committee members who rejected Weldon’s proposal, saying it is a priority needing attention before the situation escalates.
“We talk about things like a serious emergency,” she said. “That could make it a more serious emergency.”
Later that evening, the committee would revise the budget item by a 5-4 vote and add another $1.15 million for a total of $4.15 million, making it one of only two positions to get more funding than originally planned (the other was energy efficiency projects, getting the lesser of the increases to $1.6 million from $1.5 million).
Weldon was successful, however, in reducing the amount for major repairs/improvements to Parks and Recreation to $5 million from the $8.75 million originally approved by the committee. She noted that a pending voting bond could add $1.6 million to those funds, making up some of the difference.
“The reason I chose $5 million is an arbitrary number,” she said. “We just can’t fund everything.
Gladziszewski was among those opposed, saying “those are exactly the kinds of projects people want”, but the cut funding was approved by a 6-3 vote.
Funding for child care has been cut in half from the originally proposed $5 million allocation, with Weldon again noting that there is alternative funding to cover some of the reduced amount. As with affordable housing, it was among the most controversial topics of debate.
“I think behind housing is the most important issue that we need to address,” said Assemblyman Carole Triem.
A vote for the full $5 million for child care failed by a 4-5 vote, with the vote immediately afterwards for the cut $2.5 million being approved 8-1, with opposition from ‘Wáahlaal Gíidaak Barbara Blake.
Funding for a downtown waterfront museum was also cut in half, receiving $2 million instead of $4 million. Weldon again noted that other sources of funding are available and other Assembly members noted that the project is still in the conceptual stage. Some members added that the project is a new building, rather than maintenance, and has largely fallen off the public radar since it was originally proposed years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic. .
A major cut for another project in the early stages was a $6.5 million proposal for a Lemon Creek multi-model road, which was cut to $1.5 million by a 6-3 vote. Weldon said said she was unwilling to fund the full amount at the start of this project, but the reduced amount allows her to “get the project started”.
The biggest cuts of all were the elimination of $15 million for wastewater service projects and $10 million for water service projects. But the projects were ranked 17th and 19th respectively on the priority list, and there were only a few million left in the pool of expected revenue from the tax when they were reviewed.
Among the items at the bottom of the list that were not considered were $2.5 million for electrification of city facilities, $5 million for baseball/softball turf at Adair Kennedy Track and approximately $1 million for a Thane Community Garden grant.
Juneau Empire reporter Mark Sabbatini can be reached at [email protected]