Group seeking to repeal Juneau real estate disclosure ordinances may be short of signatures

for sale sign Juneau 2022 06
A sign marks a home for sale in the Flats neighborhood of Juneau on June 14, 2022. Real estate buyers have been required to disclose the price to the city assessor’s office since October 2020. (Photo by Paige Sparks/KTOO)

Juneau officials say the group seeking to repeal the mandatory disclosure of real estate sale prices doesn’t appear to have enough signatures for their question to reach the October ballot. But they’re not done validating them.

“As of right now, they have not given us a total number, as they’re still certifying half the books,” said Ann Sparks, a local real estate agent working on the repeal effort, on Wednesday afternoon. “So they’ve only made it halfway through. And so we don’t have an exact number to tell anyone.”

She said it sounded like the group was behind by “a small margin.”

The group initially submitted 2,501 signatures to the city. That was more than they needed. But the signature validation process is still ongoing, and so far, the city says they’re coming up short. The group will get 10 extra days to collect more signatures.

The signature validation process isn’t going according to schedule. The group submitted the signatures on June 4. The city clerk’s office intended to complete its review by Tuesday to meet a 10-day deadline in the city charter.

City Clerk Beth McEwen said Tuesday her office has been working extra hours to get through the process. McEwen said she didn’t have an estimate for when they would finish and would not be providing public status updates.

City Attorney Rob Palmer would not concede that the deadline had passed.

“So the timing is a little squirrelly,” he said. He declined to comment further on the issue.

The deadline language does appear to have some ambiguity when there are too few signatures.

The referendum group wants to repeal a pair of ordinances the Juneau Assembly adopted in 2020 and this past February that made it mandatory to share the sales price of real estate and other related information with the city assessor’s office.

Real estate professionals say mandatory disclosures are an invasion of privacy that will lead to higher tax bills and pave the way for city officials to enact a real estate transfer tax, which is common in states with mandatory disclosure laws.

The Assembly has not discussed creating such a tax in its public meetings.

City finance officials and government assessors say that mandatory disclosure leads to more accurate assessments and a more fair distribution of the property tax burden.

The Alaska Legislature’s nonpartisan research service examined the issue in 2014. In a report, the researcher said that without mandatory disclosures, the highest value properties tend to be under-assessed compared to more typical homes, which means the owners of large custom homes and commercial properties tend to benefit from nondisclosure.

To date, Juneau Assessor Mary Hammond said no one has been fined for failing to disclose. But the city assessor’s office intends to begin levying fines at the end of June.

The last petition process that led to a question reaching the local ballot was in 2011. Voters were asked to create a tax of 15 cents per plastic shopping bag used at major retailers. Voters rejected it by more than 2-1.

The city’s election rules give the group an extra 10 days to collect more signatures to meet the threshold of 2,130. Sparks and the city attorney said they expect that clock will start running on Friday, when additional signature gathering books are ready. Sparks said her group’s goal is to collect 500 more.

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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