Ken Koelsch: Close, but no cigar

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By KEN KOELSCH

Before beginning my teaching career in Juneau in 1968, one of my favorite summer jobs was supervising the many food and game booths at the largest free fair in my home state of Michigan. Carnival games like tossing rings around the neck of a bottle or basketballs through a hoop were popular, and prizes were always awarded. 

Many of the “carnival barkers” still used an expression from the 1920’s when cigars were given as prizes to encourage fair visitors to try again: “Close, but no cigar.”  Cigars were more readily accepted as prizes in the early 20th century than they would be today. Today, if you go to a state fair, you will probably hear, “Close, but no stuffed toy.” 

Now let’s talk taxes. At the City and Borough of Juneau Finance Committee meeting last Wednesday, Assembly member Greg Smith proposed reducing the property tax millage rate from 10.16 to 9.91 mills. It garnered four of the five votes needed to be further considered. Close, but no cigar.   

The Finance committee eventually settled on dropping the mill rate to 10.04, a measly 1.2% reduction, which passed with seven votes.  

Some Assembly members expressed the concern that a more substantial cut was just too “uncomfortable”, as there might be priorities that would require incurring more bond debt in the future. Sorry, not even close!

“Uncomfortable” for some Juneau families was seeing the median home value and corresponding tax bill jump an average of 23% since 2020. If viewed honestly, escalating property values over the last several years will cost the average homeowner over $1,000 more in tax annually while the Assembly’s proposed millage rate “reduction” only pares it back a few hundred dollars

Uncomfortable is the Juneau homeowner coming up with the cash for home maintenance, house insurance, mortgage payments and CBJ property taxes. Landscaping can be put off another year, a new or used car is out of the picture until prices drop, braces or glasses are higher  priorities than school activities. Juneau still ranks the highest in urban Alaska for housing , groceries, and medical costs. Now that’s uncomfortable.

In the past three years Juneau has over-collected on our property taxes. For the past three years, the city’s two main sources of income (property and sales taxes) have produced millions in additional city revenue over actual budgeted needs. The City and Borough of Juneau stashed $16.3 million in an account for a new City Hall, brought up additional debt to pay off, added to our restricted budget reserves, and appropriated most of the rest of the millions to various community requests, some questionable.   

The portion of Juneau’s tax millage rate dedicated to debt payment can be reduced drastically and still pay off our scheduled debt. It is past time to give our homeowner working families a break. Dropping the debt millage rate from 1.2 to .73 for a mill rate total of 9.69 would lower the average property tax payment by almost $300. Then consider additional reductions that can be offset by tightening spending. A good place to start.

This would be in keeping with past years’ property tax overcollections, the increase in sales taxes due to inflation and cruise ship visitors’ spending, and tens of millions of dollars in reserves and appropriations for large projects that have been turned down by voters.

The Assembly believes they know better than you how your tax dollars should be spent.

Close,  but no cigar.

Ken Koelsch is a former mayor of Juneau and a longtime educator.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Mill rates mean nothing when their own hired hands glorify property and put any number they want on the assessment.
    Its as phony as the the old sign in Chilkoot’s…”We cheat the other guy and pass the savings on to you”

    • A mill is where lumber, steel, or textiles (as examples) are manufactured. In the context of your statement, you meant to say “mil.” It generally means 1/1000th of something.

    • Because there are too many statists in Juneau and thus on the CBJ assembly. Remember Bastiat’s definition of state: “the great fiction by which everyone endeavors to live at the expense of everyone else.”

    • Bang on! This issue is not only city wide but look at our legislature!!!
      Definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result!
      People have checked out!

  2. Exactly, the CBJ raises taxes by the allowed 2% every year as they are entitled to. Then, they roam sections each year and give new assessments. Always scary when they’re in your part of town. We have so many reminders of failed projects. The whale statue that never worked, an electric bus that was a disaster (they still want to buy more), tram gondolas and poles that line the road to the ski area. There’s more I’m sure.

  3. They are pricing people out of Juneau. Our property assessment has gone up 35% in 3 years. We now pay the same amount of taxes then before we received our $150,000 tax exemption for being 65. Not much of a savings. We will soon be discussing selling our home and moving south, unfortunately it will take all of our saving to get the house sellable. I’ve lived here 51 years, my husband close to 65 years. This has been our home but it’s getting just too expensive to live here.

    • Sher, you say “they are pricing people out of Juneau,” We should define who “they” are. Isn’t it the voters who hire the assembly that makes poor decisions regarding our borough economy? Those of us who voted for them should look in the mirror for the problem. If we didn’t vote for them then we should also look in the mirror because our lack of effort prevented the election of clear-thinking candidates. Finally, those who don’t vote are actually voting (passively) for whoever is elected. We see the problem; it is us, our friends, neighbors, relatives, co-workers, etc.

      • Wayne you hit the nail on the head!
        Complacency in voting is a huge issue! Rank choice voting further worsened the problem. Seems like people have stopped caring and complaining louder! Look in the mirror is right!

  4. As long as you have to pay the government for the privilege of living on your own parcel of land, you don’t own it. You’re just renting.
    Taxation is theft.

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