Juneau Chamber members express concerns about proposed sales tax, bond measures

Chamber lunch

Assembly members Karen Crane, David Stone and Mary Becker answered questions at Thursday’s Chamber of Commerce luncheon about two proposed capital project funding packages likely to appear on this fall’s municipal election ballot. (Photo by Casey Kelly/KTOO)

Juneau’s business community has serious reservations about a proposal to put two capital improvement project funding packages on this fall’s municipal election ballot, according to a survey of Chamber of Commerce members.

The Juneau Assembly will hold a public hearing on the proposed ballot propositions on Monday. One would extend the city’s temporary 1-percent sales tax for five years to pay for a $34.5-million project list. The other is a $24.9-million bond proposition to pay for a list of additional projects. The Assembly has proposed using $10-million from the sales tax extension to pay down debt on the bonds, avoiding the need to raise property taxes.

The chamber received 116 responses to its online survey — about a third of the group’s membership. Nearly 54 percent said there wasn’t enough public input on the proposals. And 76 percent disagreed with using sales tax and bond revenue to fund deferred maintenance to city buildings — a common practice for years.

Denny DeWitt sits on the Chamber’s government affairs committee and says he’ll be happy to vote no on the measures if they appear on the ballot as is.

“We’ve got operating budget problems at the city, which means that we’re going to have difficulty funding what we’re doing,” DeWitt says. “We’re concerned about state revenues being reduced. And it seems to me this is a time to be very, very cautious about moving forward with adding things to our property tax base and to the sales tax. We can’t afford what we’ve got now; one’s got to wonder how we’re going to afford it in the future.”

About half the Chamber members surveyed said the Assembly should delay the issue until next year, when the sales tax is due to expire. But in a letter to the Juneau Assembly today (Thursday), Chamber CEO Cathie Roemmich says postponing it may be “prudent.”

Assembly Finance Committee Chair Karen Crane — one three members to answer questions about the measures at today’s chamber luncheon — says the public has had plenty of time to comment on the lists, and she sees no need for delay.

“This list was put together by nine duly elected members,” Crane says. “If we wait we’ll still be looking at a list put together by nine duly elected members, three of whom won’t know as much, because some of us have spent just months and months looking at these projects.”

Assembly members are likely to decide Monday whether to send the measures to voters, though they could be held for an additional public hearing on August 27th.

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