Juneau Assembly seeks ballot question on exempting food from sales tax

Fred Meyer sales tax receipt illustration
The sales tax rate in Juneau is 5%. Local voters are likely to be asked in the October election to exempt food from the sales tax if the summer seasonal tax rate goes to 6%. (Photo illustration by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Are Juneau residents willing to exempt food from sales tax if the sales tax rate goes up to 6% in the summer?

Some version of that question is likely to be on the municipal election ballot in October. After weeks of discussion, the Juneau Assembly on Monday asked city staff to draft an ordinance to pose that ballot question. Assembly member Greg Smith made the motion, which passed without objection.

The full Assembly still has to hold a public hearing and vote on that ordinance at a later meeting.

City Finance Director Jeff Rogers also shared an updated projection of the financial impacts of the changes. He estimated that the average Juneau household would have a net savings of about $143 a year, while the average summer visitor would spend about $1 extra. The city’s revenue would also be down $400,000 a year.

Mayor Beth Weldon had some reservations.

“You know, Mr. Rogers put it out that it’s $143 savings per household, so I don’t see it as a huge savings,” she said. “But for food and most of those folks that we’re trying to help probably are getting helped elsewhere, with SNAP and those kind of things. But I guess we won’t know what everybody else’s viewpoint is until we send it to the voters, so I guess we have to send it to the voters.”

The Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce surveyed its members in March about various sales tax scenarios. The combination of a seasonal sales tax and food exemption was unpopular.

Weldon said she expects more discussion as the ordinance moves forward. To get a question on the October ballot, the Assembly must pass an ordinance by Aug. 4.

The committee also intends to continue work tightening or repealing other existing sales tax exemptions, separate from the ballot question.

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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