By JOE GELDHOF
Happy with how things are going down at City Hall in Juneau? Do you understand how commercial property tax assessments increased by a huge amount during a pandemic, even while some property values diminished? Do you have an explanation how the City and Borough of Juneau added the equivalent of 25 new staffing positions at a time when sales tax and other revenues were plummeting?
Juneau’s Assembly and the senior management team apparently believe there is an unending source of revenue available for them to spend. And spend, spend, spend is the main activity of our elected and appointed servants here in Juneau.
Not only did commercial property tax assessments increase by a vast amount during a pandemic, the City and Borough of Juneau keeps adding new staffing positions even as sales tax revenues plummeted. Next up is a proposal to add staff to plan for the new city hall building that is the dream of the bureaucrats who really run our little city.
I’ve owned and managed a modest business in Juneau and collected and paid sales tax to the CBJ for over 25 years. We pay our personal property taxes around my home. My business regularly supports youth athletic teams and provides funding for a variety of charitable activities that enhance Juneau and its residents. I understand that taxes and contributing are important.
But Juneau’s local government has an addiction to spending. Our little community of 32,000 has an adopted budget of $421 million. That means we intend to spend $421 million on local municipal functions according to the most recently adopted budget passed by the Assembly. And, in order to adopt this outsized budget, the Assembly dipped into savings.
The Assembly routinely adds expensive staff to coordinate policy discussion about hot-button topics, including housing, tourism, and other topics du jour. These positions never seem to sunset, but instead evolve. The expense of the positions continues, and the bureaucracy grows.
Juneau generously supports an economic development entity that does little for actual economic activity and is clueless as to the real world of commerce.
Juneau spends tax dollars paying dues to the ineffective Southeast Conference, an organization that hasn’t added significant value to public decision making for decades.
Our little town, located in the capital of our state has two lobbyists on the payroll who deliver with the same regularity as the post office on Sunday.
For way too long, we paid an expensive deputy manager who elevated process over results, causing various observers to wonder just why we need a deputy city manager anyway? Perhaps so the City Manager could take a sabbatical, which to the wonder of many and the amusement of nobody actually happened.
If you are tired of the dithering and antics that too often characterize the decision-making of our Assembly, there is something you can do to register your dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Don’t be put off by the lack of candidates who might reform the way budgets are adopted and how our city operates. Get the ballot, fill in the oval next to the “write in” line and cast your ballot for “none of the above,” if you are not satisfied with the direction of our municipal government.
Each candidate deserves to be reviewed, but if you are not satisfied, express your dissatisfaction. If enough voters indicate their unwillingness to support continued government growth and more spending, maybe our elected officials and the senior management team will start acting differently.
There is another democratic act you can take to signal that Juneau’s local government is out of control:
The municipal ballot this October will ask whether you want to extend the 3% sales tax. Personally, I have not made up my mind whether I will support the extension. I can think of some decent reasons to extend the sales tax, but what will persuade me to vote “yes” on the extension will be a clear commitment from the candidates running for office that they will spend public funds more efficiently and thoughtfully. Without a commitment to spend like adults, why would anyone continue taxing themselves to keep government growing?
My complaint is not with the hard-working folks who plow the streets, collect the taxes, and complete the activities required to pay our bills. I believe the employees who deliver the water and conduct essential services deserve a decent wage and benefits. But anyone who thinks there isn’t fluff and fat in the City budget isn’t paying attention.
Juneau’s budget is $421 million and likely to grow. Our population is and has been plateaued for a while and isn’t likely to increase anytime soon. This is a situation that is unsustainable and why “None of the Above” makes sense.
Joe Geldhof is an attorney and civic activist in Juneau.