Assembly minority wields influence over October ballot questions

This design rendering shows how the new Juneau Arts and Culture Center may appear from the Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building.

This design rendering shows how a new $31 million Juneau Arts and Culture Center may appear from the Andrew P. Kashevaroff Building. (Courtesy Juneau Arts and Humanities Council)

The deadline for the Juneau Assembly to choose the Oct. 2 ballot propositions is Monday. There are questions over raising the hotel bed tax, competing ownership arrangements for the “New JACC” cultural center and perhaps a re-vote over city-subsidized childcare.

With the deadline to decide approaching, the Assembly is down two members who had to resign in order to run for mayor.

Action requires five votes. That means any three of the remaining seven members can block something. That’s what happened earlier when a four-member majority wasn’t enough to advance a ballot question over city-subsidized child care.

Child care

City Manager Rorie Watt said a lot of people have written to the Assembly since that vote.

“We have had emails from the public asking the Assembly to reevaluate their position,” Watt said, “so it’s unclear to me whether they have an appetite to do that or not.”

Assemblywoman Maria Gladziszewski was in favor of placing the child care issue on the ballot.

“I think that it should be given to the voters and then we’d hear from them and give supporters of the issue time to make their best case to all of Juneau and people can weigh in, rather than it being decided by seven of us,” she said.

Opponents included Assemblywoman Mary Becker, who said the city shouldn’t spend money on child care.

“I’m pretty strong in thinking that this is not something that we should take on,” Becker said.

Supporters say they are not just concentrating on the current Assembly.

“We are also doing a lot of voter education so that for the next Assembly, we’ll have candidates on the record for supporting child care in our community,” said Joy Lyon, executive director of the Southeast Alaska chapter of the Association for the Education of Young Children.

The New JACC and Centennial Hall

Then there are questions over the New JACC and refurbishing Centennial Hall.

“There are two potential bond measures that they might put in front of the voters and they can’t put both,” Watt said. “It would be one or the other. And the distinguishing features of them are who owns the New JACC.”

The first is a $12 million bond that would include funding for both facilities. Both are managed by the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council. Executive Director Nancy DeCherney said her board favors a future arts and culture center remaining city-owned.

“Which some people are uncomfortable with,” DeCherney said. “I guess maybe they forgot that the city owns the old JACC, which we’ve been managing, and it would be a similar relationship. The city would own the facility and we would be managing it.”

A second option would be to demolish the old city-owned JACC and replace it with a new building owned by the nonprofit. It would still be on city land. This would involve borrowing through a $7 million bond. That’s in addition to a $2 million city grant to the arts council.

That option was crafted by former Assemblywoman Beth Weldon. But she resigned to run for mayor and won’t be there to vote.

Bed tax

The final issue is over raising Juneau’s hotel bed tax from 7 to 9 percent. The bed tax helps fund Centennial Hall as well as Travel Juneau, which promotes Alaska’s capital city as a destination.

“Travel Juneau is maintaining its opposition to an increase in the hotel bed tax,” said Liz Perry, the visitor bureau’s executive director.

She said a 9 percent bed tax would make Juneau’s hotel tax higher than both Anchorage and Fairbanks.

“And that’s going to hinder our ability to sell meetings and conventions into Juneau,” Perry said. “Meeting planners are becoming more and more cost-conscious and when we’re talking booking 200 rooms a night, they’re looking at every dime.”

Assemblyman Loren Jones supports a higher bed tax.

“It could be used for arts centers, it could be used sports activities, it could be used for a variety of things,” Jones said.

He’ll need to convince at least four other Assembly members for the measure to go before voters.

There will be time for public testimony in advance of any Assembly action or inaction. The meeting begins at 5 p.m. Monday in the Assembly Chambers in downtown Juneau.

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