Joe Geldhof: Vote like your taxes depend on it - Must Read Alaska
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Wednesday, October 27, 2021
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Joe Geldhof: Vote like your taxes depend on it

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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.

Vote!

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.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Well Joe, We aren’t usually on the same team but we sure are here. Good on ya.

  • Good column Joe,
    I would venture to say that government agencies eventually succumb to the same thing that brought down the Soviet communist system. Central planning, little leadership, no incentive to perform. As a public institution they are bound to onerous legal, political, and contractual (unions, etc) restrictions. As a result, they are highly inefficient yet the tax collection machine lurches onward unabated. Any attempt to make a substantive change is reliably muddled by political opposition groups and things never change. Electing wiser representatives would certainly help but how do you get people to vote to reduce government when many of them are employed by, or benefit from, the government? Isn’t making all of us dependent on the government the holy grail strategy of progressives?

  • Wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air if government would actually report at the end of the fiscal year they spent much less than what was appropriated? That they will be able to save money through different means of saving and investments? God forbid they spend and allocate money wisely and responsible.

  • Who complains about politicians wasting money
    .
    then seems okay with continuing a sales tax to –reward– them with more money?
    .
    This isn’t talk about aggressive action to starve metastatic government into submission.
    .
    No, utter blarney it is: “… a clear commitment from the candidates running for office that they will spend public funds more efficiently and thoughtfully.”
    .
    … meaning what, or else you’ll do what? Nada.
    .
    Government is the cottage industry keeping the Holy City of Juneau alive.
    .
    Look at it like a company town; company’s the government. Company makes a profit, you got a life. Company goes bust, moves… not good for you.
    .
    No? What props up the modest business, the little community, if government goes away or is starved down to manageable size?
    .
    Bottom line is vote how you will, but remember you’re gonna feed this pig because its pork keeps you alive, yes?

  • Juneau is not the only place where this crap goes on. Take a look at what the most respected and esteemed members of the Anchorage assembly have been doing.
    .
    In a year when they took a $37.7M hit in the budget because the State is not providing bond debt servicing aid, the Assembly has:
    1. Hired on an assistant
    2. Hired on an “equity” officer for a minimum five year term
    3. Overridden a Mayoral veto and implemented a council of homeless. (I know… I know, that does not add to the budget.) Except, what are the odds the homeless advisory council will recommend anything other than using taxpayer dollars to make homeless lives better???
    .
    Your “representatives” are no longer representing the best interests of the taxpayers. Not at the local, state, or even Federal level. Spending other people’s money gets addicting. Elections have consequences, and the politicians are never the ones that have to suffer those consequences. The taxpayers suffer the consequences.
    .
    If this panicdemic and 2020 have demonstrated anything it is the average voter must pay attention to what is happening locally, not just who is President.

  • I like Hanna’s comment earlier. Municipal property taxes have always interested me. There is expressed pride when the mil rate is held or reduced, but sometimes it is reduced or held steady because property values have increased. I think that may have happened in Juneau this year.

    Property owners have the option to appeal, but appeals can be intensive when the person appealing has to establish a different value by finding comparable sales and identifying characteristics of the property that should reduce the assessed value. Not everyone is in a position to do this, and thus must rely on assessments being set as objectively as possible. I am interested how the appeal by the commercial property owners will be resolved.

  • Hey, my Federal taxes financed the Taliban, go figure.

  • Joe……this isn’t differential equations or rocket science. More like 4th grade arithmetic. If you spend more than what ya got saved in the pot, you just kick-in taxes to make up the difference on the back end. Everyone does it. The federal government does it. The Democrats in state government who hate the PFD dividend do it. Why wouldn’t the city of Juneau do it too?

    • Dude! The Dems don’t hate the PFD. They just know that they can’t get a state income tax passed when they are distributing the full amount of the PFD. If they can keep it low enough for long enough, the sheeple will forget what it really should be and think the State is as broke as people say………..hence the State income tax while we have $80 Billion in the bank and a legislature that knows how to spend it.

  • We’ve got Federal funds……..We need to add positions……..we’ve out grown our current accomodations…..We need more space…….It’s “cheaper to build a new building”……said EVERY governing body EVER!

    The uninformed will tell you that we as Alaskans will be left paying the bill for the new larger building………..The rest of us know, we’re getting the bill for the Federal funds, the new positions AND the larger building and its associated maintenance.

    sigh……………….

  • Haaaa! You Alaskans love to whine about how your city leaders spend money. But you all throw away federal funds as fast as you can spend it. Biggest welfare state in the United States! If they turned off our golden faucet of federal handouts we would all starve to death in a month. Quit blaming your community leaders for wasted spending!! You voted for them.

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