Monday is the public’s last chance to weigh in on several Juneau ballot questions, including a new City Hall

New City Hall on Whittier Street rendering
During a public forum in May, the City and Borough of Juneau’s design team shared this rendering of what a new City Hall building could look like on Whittier Street.

On Monday, the Juneau Assembly plans to take public comment and hold its final vote on measures to put questions on the October local election ballot focused on new infrastructure and how to pay for it.

There are three ordinances for three separate questions.

First, an ordinance to ask voters to extend a temporary portion of the city’s sales tax. Without action, 1% of the city’s overall 5% sales tax rate will expire in September 2023. If it is extended another five years, it’s forecast to raise $60 million. As with past renewals, the money is earmarked for several specific infrastructure projects. Here’s the list this time:

  • Deferred maintenance of city and Juneau School District facilities
  • Replacement of public safety equipment for the Juneau Police Department and Capital City Fire/Rescue
  • Redevelopment of Gastineau Avenue, Telephone Hill, and north State Office Building parking garage
  • Harbor expansion and maintenance
  • Lemon Creek multiuse path
  • Relocating the Juneau-Douglas City Museum

Unlike past 1% asks, this year’s list also includes funding for items that aren’t traditional brick-and-mortar infrastructure:

  • Contributions to the city’s budget reserve
  • Support for expanding childcare availability
  • Support for affordable housing and ongoing development of Pederson Hill
  • Information technology upgrades

A second item would ask voters to authorize $35 million in debt to build a new city hall on Whittier Street. The new facility would let the city centralize its office workers and public-facing services, which are currently spread across four different buildings downtown. Of those four buildings, the city only owns the current City Hall. Watt said the city pays more than $800,000 a year in rent for the extra office space.

“When your business plan is to be in business FOREVER, you should own your own building — it just makes economic sense,” Watt told the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce recently.

Watt said he knows that asking the public to OK so much new spending is a big ask.

“I want people to be firmly aware that there is a cost of doing nothing,” Watt said. “And that’s a cost of not deciding. That cost is, we’re going to keep paying that rent forever. You know, we probably could’ve bought several of those buildings — or probably, we bought several buildings for those owners already, by being such a good tenant.”

The existing City Hall building dates back to the 1950s and needs significant repairs. Public Works and Engineering Director Katie Koester said it needs about $12 million of work over the next several years to stay viable.

“Some of it is near term, like painting the facade,” she said. “But you can’t paint the facade without repairing the plaster. You can’t repair the plaster without fixing the windows. Then you need to replace the windows — so it escalates very quickly.”

The city’s design team held a public forum about the new city hall proposal in May.

A third ordinance would ask voters to authorize $6.6 million in debt for park improvements:

  • Turf and track surfacing for sports facilities at Adair-Kennedy Park
  • A new public use cabin
  • Areawide trail maintenance

The Assembly is also taking up two other ballot question-related ordinances to let the city manager campaign for the new city hall question, and against a petition-driven referendum to repeal a local mandate to disclose the price of real estate sales to the city assessor’s office. The city manager is asking for $25,000 for each of those campaigns.

The Juneau Assembly meeting begins at 7 p.m. Monday. Members of the public can participate in person or remotely through Zoom. The remote option requires advance notice by 4 p.m. the day of the meeting with the city clerk’s office at 907-586-5278. The Assembly also takes written comments by emailing BoroughAssembly@juneau.org.

KTOO also broadcasts Assembly meetings live at 104.3 FM.

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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