New online tool helps Juneau taxpayers see where their money goes

A new online tool allows Juneau residents to get an estimate how how their tax dollars are spent.
A new online tool allows Juneau residents to get an estimate of how their tax dollars are spent. (Bridget Dowd/KTOO)

Juneau city officials rolled out a new online tool that allows residents to see how the city spends their tax dollars.

Users will see an estimated breakdown of the programs and services supported by their sales and property tax dollars.

The tool runs through a site called Balancing Act. It asks residents to enter their annual income, age and the assessed value of their home — if they own one.

With that information, the site generates an unofficial “tax receipt” which shows the estimated amount paid to the school district, police and other services. 

For example, a woman in her late 30s who has an income of  $57,000 and who doesn’t own a home in Juneau, would be paying just over $800 in taxes and the bulk of it would be going to the Juneau School District. 

This screenshot shows an example of what it looks like when a resident enters their information into the Balancing Act tax tool.
A screenshot showing an example of what it looks like when a resident enters their information into the Balancing Act tax tool. (Bridget Dowd/ KTOO)

Juneau’s budget analyst Adrien Speegle said the idea came up when the City of Tacoma posted a video using the same software. 

“We became aware of that maybe last January (January 2021) and have since been sort of working with the assembly on whether they were interested in pursuing this tool and this education mechanism for the public,” she said. “They definitely were [interested].”

The receipt doesn’t include taxes levied on tobacco, liquor or marijuana sales. It also doesn’t include property taxes paid through rental costs. 

Speegle said by offering this tool, the city hopes to increase transparency and improve people’s understanding of where their money goes.

“I believe a lot of members of the community care where those tax dollars are being spent and perhaps haven’t historically had an easy way of obtaining this information,” she said.

Speegle said the city hopes having more information will encourage residents to participate in the budget process.

“If, you know, they feel like the priorities that are funded by their taxes maybe aren’t the right priorities, they may feel empowered to engage in the in the public process more,” Speegle said. “Or if they are really excited about what their tax dollars are going towards, that also, I’m hoping will encourage people to communicate that.” 

 

What do you think of the city’s tax tool? Let us know.

Bridget Dowd

Local News Reporter, KTOO

I keep tabs on what’s happening in Juneau’s classrooms for the families they serve and the people who work in them. My goal is to shine a light on both stories of success and the cracks that need to be filled, because I believe a good education is the basis of a strong community.

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