Joe Geldhof: The question of paying for new city hall looms over election

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By JOE GELDHOF

Juneau’s local election voting concludes on Oct. 3.  Various hot-button issues are being kicked round by the candidates for office this year, including housing, homelessness, and childcare and whether to build a new city hall.  

A huge field of candidates are vying for election to the local assembly, seeking the opportunity to govern Alaska’s Capital City.

The overarching issue facing Juneau’s electorate is which candidates will genuinely address important issues like high housing costs, a declining population and diminished economic opportunity. Decisions by the existing City and Borough of Juneau Assembly have postponed difficult choices, increased spending without obvious benefit for the citizens, and ignored mandates by the electorate. 

Whether Juneau voters decide to perpetuate the miserable decision-making practices of the past or elect Assembly candidates committed to positive change is what’s at stake this election cycle.

Several obvious examples of bad decision making by the current City and Borough Assembly underscore the need for change.  

Juneau’s tried-and-true election procedures were recently changed by the Assembly to mandate mail-in voting. The Assembly authorized expenditure of more than $1 million to facilitate mail-in voting. The new system is more expensive, produces slower results, creates potential for ballot abuse, and discards the system of voting that encouraged civic and community engagement. Adoption of a system that produces slower results, is more expensive, and ditched long-standing procedures that encouraged active civic involvement is a system only a dysfunctional political system could produce.

The single biggest blunder advanced by the current Assembly is the decision to borrow big via bonds to build a new city hall. Last year, Juneau’s electorate rejected a ballot proposal to borrow funds to build a new city hall. There was no organized effort to turn down the bonding proposal for the new facility. The measure lost the old-fashioned way – on the merits.

Not content with the result, the Assembly placed a big bundle of tax revenues into an account designated for construction of their new city hall despite the expressed rejection of the voters. These are funds that could have been used for tax relief, facilitating housing construction or to benefit Juneau residents. The Assembly then designed a new ballot measure attempting to borrow funds and build the city hall.  

Not only is the Assembly ignoring the will of the voters and plowing forward with the new city hall, the Assembly voted to appropriate funding to advocate for their borrowing proposal. Using the public’s tax dollars to reeducate the voters calls into question the judgment of the Assembly and has caused significant dissention.  

The propaganda produced with public tax dollars ignores obvious real-world construction costs. The City and Borough of Juneau lacks hard numbers on the actual cost to build the new city hall and lacks a financial rate-lock for borrowing the funds to build the facility.  The printed materials spread by the city using tax dollars lack clarity and fudge obvious financial factors.  There is a strong likelihood that the actual cost to build the new city hall edifice will be substantially more than the estimates floated by CBJ in their promotional literature.

The attempt by the current Juneau Assembly to ram through a new city hall where the costs to build and finance are opaque is probably the central issue in Juneau this election cycle.  There is a noticeable sense of discontent among the electorate, often as not focused on the city hall proposal.

Other issues are spurring voter discontent.  The CBJ Assembly’s adoption of property assessments based on criteria disconnected from realistic market conditions has inflated property values and significantly increased taxes for many residential and commercial property owns.  Not surprisingly, the increases on property values have generated more tax revenue to spend but harm homeowners, renters and commercial businesses.  Add to these acts and errors, the propensity of the current Assembly to conduct the public’s business behind closed doors and it is no wonder the electorate is irritated and even angry.

How the election plays out in Juneau will be a good indication of how Juneau will fare in the future.  Juneau’s economy is still weighted significantly towards government.  But Juneau can no longer count on vast infusions of government revenue to sustain jobs and a vibrant economy.  Diversification and expansion of other economic alternatives is obviously necessary if Juneau is to prosper.  

What cannot continue is a mindset among local elected officials that funds will somehow magically continue to flow into city coffers from various sources, including the state and federal treasuries or from the local taxpayers.

Juneau’s Assembly needs change.  Juneau’s citizens deserve elected officials who will demand better value from the tax dollars our community spends. We need to do more with what we have and possibly do better with less.  That starts by saying no to a new city hall with unknown costs and uncertain financing charges.

Joe Geldhof is a lawyer in Juneau. He has held several positions that require administrative and financial skills.  Joe is a District 1 candidate for the CBJ Assembly.

21 COMMENTS

  1. Seems like if voters don’t turn out and reject the tax and spend candidates, and the obtuse CBJ bond initiative for a blank check to build a new city hall, it may be time to move away from this left-wing extremist hellhole. I’m sure they’ll be some useful idiot who will tell us to leave and don’t let the door hit us on the way out. But I couldn’t in good conscience encourage anyone to move to Juneau anymore. The downward spiral has been accelerating for years, especially under Rorie Watt and his 9 merry fools.

    • I love CBJ passionately. Not too long ago I hoped to grow old(er) and die here. I wanted my ashes placed in the columbarium at the Shrine.

      But I’m getting to an age where I can’t continue to absorb it’s stupidity anymore. My kids will not return here. They flatly refused to bring grandkids here until they are at least 10. I can’t blame them.

      Saddest thing is there are opportunities here, but the leftists will not permit it.

  2. This is a “City” issue but, we should’ve moved the State Capital to Houston-Willow area!
    Maybe(?), this is attainable in the near future?

    • If a community undergoes economic decline because a mine shuts down, or for similar circumstances, then the residents usually bear the consequences. However, when a fishing industry collapses, or fires or floods occur, the government usually compensates homeowners and businesses for their losses. Since that is true, it makes even more sense for government to compensate people for their losses resulting from voters willfully choosing to remove the historical seat of government. Those having invested in homes and businesses that lose value because the capital is removed at the whim of voters, should rightfully be compensated. It is economic devastation resulting solely from the choice of voters.

  3. “What cannot continue is a mindset among local elected officials that funds will somehow magically continue to flow into city coffers from various sources, including the state and federal treasuries or from the local taxpayers.” This is a widespread attitude that isn’t confined to elected officials and/or government bureaucrats. The citizenry have gotten so accustomed to living a better lifestyle than their efforts can support on “free” government money that it’s now an entitlement. What it actually is is social parasitism and the parasites are addicted to the continuing flow of other people’s money through their government enablers. Fostering this kind of dependence destroys people, families and societies but once it’s entrenched it is impossible to stop because, you know – democracy.

  4. The reality is, we’re a slowly dying community. All that stands between us and Wrangell is tourism and state government.

    The same mindset that so desperately opposes the road to Skagway and possibly down towards Petersburg is killing us.

    Our closed nature -geographically and mentally- severely limit any real growth potential. Kids leave, because why stay? Nothing to do but take drugs and have sex. Families leave to give their kids a better chance at a decent life.

    At the same time crime, drugs, homelessness is epidemic. The cost of a home severely limits the opportunities of anyone who might want to put down roots. And the knowledge that the Faux Junta will tax homeowners beyond their means looms over every purchase.

    The magical thinking of progressives mixed with the lawlessness of our elected leaders is pushing us to collapse. But the powers that be genuinely seem to think if they wish hard enough and put on 6 more drag shows it will all work out.

    History says otherwise.

  5. Don’t forget for a moment that the Juneau Assembly appropriated taxpayer money to “teach drag queen lessons.” So far as I know a drag queen performance is transvestites dressed as women to then suggestively cavort in front of children. If I am correct about that then it’s a fair question whether Juneau remains a proper capital city for The Last Frontier. Is there an intended purpose of a drag queen performance beyond grooming children? Is there a viewpoint available that does not include revulsion for mainstream Alaskans?

    • You forgot drag lessons for children during Covid.

      As a Juneauite I want the capital gone. It will give us a much needed enema, and a once in a century chance to explore economic growth.

      But we both know the legislature won’t move it.

  6. My first comment sounds a bit defeatist, but I’m convinced it won’t take much to sway the election results to the right. I think Juneau’s conservative turnout is low because many rational folks feel like all is lost – but we really do need to keep fighting. We must push conservatives to vote – even if they dislike the mail-in voting – – please encourage your friends to vote! Drop off ballots in a drop box or at city hall, because CBJ can’t count it if there’s no postmark. (somewhere around 10% of votes were disqualified in Juneau’s first mail-in election because of this easily preventable mistake. they should have invalidated the results and held a new election.) If we successfully reject the city hall bond (again), and we put a couple of conservatives on the assembly, step two is to put an initiative on the next ballot and return CBJ to traditional precinct voting on election day.

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