Juneau Assembly OKs bond package ballot question and more COVID relief grants

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

Update | 10:44 p.m.

The Juneau Assembly has approved a ballot question seeking $15 million in new debt to pay for city infrastructure projects.

Monday’s Assembly action means local voters will be asked to authorize the municipal bonds in the Oct. 6 municipal election. If voters approve, the money should be spent on:

  • school roof replacements and other critical school infrastructure,
  • repairs and improvements to parks, and
  • city streets and energy efficiency improvements.

The Assembly also approved another $12 million in spending from its share of federal CARES Act pandemic relief money:

  • The Juneau Community Foundation will distribute up to $3 million in grants for nonprofits, worth up to $99,000 each.
  • The Juneau Economic Development Council will distribute an additional $8.5 million to expand a small business grant program.
  • Medevac service Airlift Northwest got $500,000 to maintain a plane critical to health care in Southeast Alaska. As an entity of the University of Washington, Airlift Northwest was ineligible for most other CARES Act funds.
  • And the Alaska Municipal League got $131,000 to support its COVID-19 response.

The Assembly’s Human Resources Committee also met Monday. It discussed a revised version of Assembly member Rob Edwardson’s ordinance to create a Systemic Racism Review Committee. The committee members all expressed appreciation for the ordinance and its revisions. It’s next stop is the Assembly’s Committee of the Whole on Aug. 10.

The committee also reviewed an anti-racism resolution drafted by the Juneau Human Rights Commission. The commission intends to revise it and bring the resolution back to the committee.

Original post | 10:55 a.m.

The Juneau Assembly meets on Monday for public hearings and a final vote on a debt financing plan for local infrastructure and additional pandemic grant relief for local businesses and nonprofits. 

The Assembly is expected to pass an ordinance that puts a question on the ballots in the Oct. 6 municipal election to authorize the city to borrow up to $15 million through municipal bonds.

City Finance Director Jeff Rogers told the Assembly in committee that other city debts will be paid off within a few years. The money committed to repaying that debt could cover payments for this new debt. But Rogers noted that in the short-term, the Assembly would need to find a way to make payments on new debt.  

The money would be committed to three types of projects: 

  • school repairs and roof replacements 
  • repairs and improvements to parks 
  • city streets and energy efficiency improvements 

The initial project list had an extension of the West Douglas Pioneer Road, instead of the streets and energy efficiency improvements. Mayor Beth Weldon proposed the swap in committee on July 23. She said she had doubts voters would pass the original bond package, and called the Douglas road extension controversial. 

“I think the other one is not very sexy, but it’s also not very controversial,” Weldon said. “And also, if we’re looking at this bond package to spur the economy and get people to work, there’s going to be more workers working on several projects than one big road.”

The Douglas road project has been in the city’s long-term plans for decades. It’s intended to open up hundreds of acres on the backside of Douglas Island to development. 

Goldbelt Inc., which owns a lot of land the road extension would provide access to, did not return requests for comment. 

Public Works and Engineering Director Katie Koester said replacing boilers, heating and ventilation systems and other energy efficiency improvements in city buildings would be money well spent, reducing the city’s emissions and energy costs. 

More local CARES Act relief

The Assembly has two more ordinances up for final vote that would provide more than $11 million in additional pandemic relief grants to local businesses and nonprofits. It’s federal money from the CARES Act. 

One would make $3 million available in grants of up to $99,000 to nonprofits. 

Another lines up $8.5 million in small business grants. It’s an expansion of an earlier $3.5 million business grant program

The public can testify on both of these items. 

Anti-racism resolution and systemic racism review committee

Before the full Assembly meets on Monday, its Human Resources Committee is meeting jointly with the Juneau Human Rights Commission. Their agenda includes an anti-racism resolution and discussion of Assembly member Rob Edwardson’s ordinance to create a Systemic Racism Review Committee

The racism committee ordinance has been revised since the Assembly’s last discussion of it. Two significant changes appear to address what Mayor Beth Weldon flagged as deal-breaking problems for her:

In the initial version, the committee’s review of proposed ordinances and resolutions was required before the Assembly could act on them. The latest version says emergency legislation can skip the review. And that the committee “should” review regular legislation and report out its findings before Assembly meetings, but it is not required. It urges a committee review after legislation is adopted if it wasn’t completed before. 

The committee meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. Monday, and the full Assembly’s regular meeting follows at 7 p.m. 

The Assembly is holding both meetings over Zoom video conference, and the full Assembly meeting will be streamed on the city’s Facebook page. Live radio coverage of the full Assembly meeting begins at 7 p.m. on KTOO, 104.3 FM. 

Instructions on how to testify are available on the city’s website

Jeremy Hsieh

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I dig into questions about the forces and institutions that shape Juneau, big and small, delightful and outrageous. What stirs you up about how Juneau is built and how the city works?

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