Sales tax wish lists grows

Bartlett Regional Hospital hopes for future sales tax revenue for a new unit.
Photo by Casey Kelly.

The wish list for Juneau’s 1 percent temporary sales tax has grown to more than $81 million.

The City and Borough’s 5 percent sales tax is comprised of a permanent 1 percent, a temporary 3 percent and a temporary 1 percent tax; the temporary portions to be approved by voters.

The temporary 1 percent sales tax expires September 30, 2013. Voters will be asked to extend it this fall. It’s called a project tax, because it’s generally used to fund city construction and maintenance.

In recent weeks, city departments have come to the Assembly with their favorite project; non-profit organizations are also expected to ask for a share.

The Public Works and Facilities Committee is the first stop for requests, where this exchange was heard at a recent meeting:

“So are you asking for 28 million dollars out of the one percent sales tax?” Assembly Finance Chair Karen Crane asked.

“Oh we’d love to have 28 million dollars,” quipped Juneau International Airport Manager Jeannie Johnson.

Crane: “I don’t see it happening, Jeanie.”

Johnson: “No, I don’t see it happening either. What we ended up with the last time was 10 million dollars.”

Johnson hopes to use future sales tax revenue for phase two of the terminal renovation, which will remodel or replace parts of the old wing built 60 to 70 years ago. Johnson said it ranks “as one of third worst energy hogs of all CBJ buildings.”

Other transportation projects in line for sales tax revenue are Capital Transit’s bus barn and maintenance facility, and Aurora and Auke Bay harbors.

“The question is,” said Port Director Carl Uchytil, “at what point do you want to stop funding good money after bad facility?”

Uchytil speaks for a lot of CBJ facilities that need maintenance, renovation, or complete replacement.

Parks and Recreation has $8.65 million worth of projects ranging from a new roof for Centennial Hall to Marine Park improvements to local trails.

Sales tax revenue has helped build Eaglecrest chair lifts. Photo by Rosemarie Alexander.

The Eaglecrest Ski Area is hoping for $6.68 million for a three-phrase project that would renovate the crowded old lodge and build a new “Learning Center.” General Manager Matt Lillard told the Assembly committee that such a center is needed if Eaglecrest is going to manage its growth:

“Over the past years we’ve seen an over 3 percent growth yearly, and that is mainly coming from new users to the ski area,” he said.

Lillard said the center would house the Snow Sports School, which is enjoying 36 percent growth this year, as well as the rental shop, retail and repair shops, ticket sales, classroom space, staff offices, and a facility for the increasing number of adaptive skiers and boarders.

“We also feel that by having a learning center we will gain more users at Eaglecrest and hopefully increase our annual revenue by 50-thousand (dollars),” Lillard said.

Bartlett Regional Hospital is also vying for $5 million in sales tax revenue for a 21-bed mental health unit for children and adolescents, ages 5 to 17.

The library department wants to build in the Mendenhall Valley, at the Dimond Park site. A library has been part of the master plan for the area since the city purchased the land many years ago. The current valley library is in the Mendenhall Mall, where rent has increased 17 percent since 2009.

Library Director Barbara Berg called it “the elephant in the middle of our budget, essentially. We sacrifice collection money, computer money, everything else in order to be able to pay the rent.”

Berg said the mall has so many limits that it constrains programs the library can offer. The city’s portion of the project would be $4.7 million dollars, while most of the construction funds would come from the State of Alaska.

The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council is looking for $14 million for two small performing arts theatres. Former Assembly member Jeff Bush, now on the council’s board of directors, presented that request.

“We went out originally with a concept of a single theater or between 500 to 600 seats and the public user groups came back and said, ‘No, we need so many spaces that we would prefer to have two smaller spaces rather than one larger space,’ ” Bush said.

The only non-profit to submit a request so far is Sealaska Heritage Institute. SHI is asking for $3 million toward construction of the Soboleff Cultural Center to be built downtown.

The temporary 1 percent sales tax generates an average of $8 million a year, or $40 million over the five years it is in effect. Voters approved the last one in 2008.

It’s likely more projects will be proposed for those funds over the next few months. The Assembly will decide which projects will go on the fall municipal election ballot.

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