Juneau Assembly passes city budget as state budget impacts loom

A woman crosses Marine Way in front of Juneau City Hall on Sept. 25, 2017. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

A woman crosses Marine Way in front of Juneau City Hall on Sept. 25, 2017. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly passed the city’s $379 million operating budget Monday night with little debate — outside of a decision to keep the same mill rate from last year.

The budget maintains the same level of services and operations from the previous year, but the Alaska Legislature’s ongoing special session leaves several things up in the air.

If the state’s final budget does not reimburse municipalities for school bond debt, Juneau will owe $7.1 million this year. Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed eliminating the program entirely, which would amount to $23 million in costs for Juneau over the next several years.

City officials have said that if the reimbursement program is eliminated, Juneau residents can expect to see local property taxes increase between 4% and 14% over the next several years.

That’s why the Assembly voted to keep the mill rate the same as last year, effectively raising the property tax rate since property assessments went up this year by about 1% overall.

As a result, the city projects collecting nearly half a million dollars in additional property tax revenue.

Mary Becker 2016 10 04

Juneau Assembly member Mary Becker in 2016. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Assembly member Mary Becker proposed an amendment lowering the mill rate in order to keep property taxes relatively stable from last year.

She pointed to an increase in sales tax revenue and the city’s healthy savings account, arguing the city could afford to reduce Juneau’s cost-of-living burden for residents.

“I just feel that we should do this for the public,” Becker said. “We should do it for the people who are having a hard time.”

Assembly member Carole Triem said the city’s stable financial situation is not enough assurance, given the increase in shifting costs from the state.

“I don’t think we can tout our strong savings account on one hand and then deplete it and not have a plan to replenish it on the other,” Triem said.

Becker’s amendment narrowly failed by a 4-4 vote.

Becker and Assembly members Wade Bryson, Michelle Hale and Rob Edwardson voted in favor of lowering the mill rate. Triem, Mayor Beth Weldon and Assembly members Loren Jones and Alicia Hughes-Skandijs voted against it. Assembly member Maria Gladziszewski was absent.

Depending on how things progress at the state Capitol, the Assembly may have to revisit the budget in July.

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