Ken Koelsch: Juneau Assembly needs to retreat



We might not be privy to what the Assembly’s agenda is, but we need to begin with the premise that it wants to do the right thing. It is our job as citizens to help determine “the right direction” starting with the people here and then help make it happen.

Start with Taxation 101.

Taxes fund our local government so it can provide essential services we all value — like public safety, schools and roads. Property tax is calculated in mills, equivalent to one-tenth of a percent. A mill rate of 10 means that your property tax is equal to 1% of your property’s assessed value.

Do you remember what the millage rate was at the start of the 2023 year? It was 10.56.

In May, the Assembly lowered the rate from 10.56 to 10.16. The Juneau Empire headline read, “Assembly votes to lower property tax rate” and Assembly members proudly proclaimed that this was the lowest millage rate since the late 1990s.

Yes, the Assembly did lower the mill rate to 10.16, but what they couldn’t brag about was the fact that even though they lowered the millage rate, because property assessments rose so steeply — 13%, our tax bills actually went up an average of almost 9%.

But did you know that the Assembly’s 0.4 percent decrease (10.56 to 10.16) was actually less than what Juneau taxpayers achieved when they rejected $27 million in bonds for a new city hall in October?

That action effectively lowered the coming year’s debt rate nearly a half mill from 1.20 to 0.73 (0.47 percent).

What is happening to that money that does not need to be allocated to paying debt service on $27 million? Will it stay in the pockets of Juneau taxpayers or will it be collected for an Assembly “priority” that is not an essential service or just be collected because actually lowering property tax is not a thought process?

The CBJ has done an excellent job accumulating reserves (mostly by over-collecting sales and property taxes) they can disperse as they see fit without the permission of voters. But it is the citizens’ money.

There is $16.3 million that has been appropriated for a new city hall. That is your money.

There is at least $7 million appropriated for capital civic center funds; with another $10 million designated from passenger head taxes- That is your money.

There is projected to be $31 million in unrestricted 2024 budget reserves collected mainly from property and sales taxes. That is your money.

At the end of October (thanks to cruise ship passenger spending and inflation), the CBJ treasury set a record for third quarter sales tax collection of $21 million. That increase is your money.

And then there’s property tax. $64,484,700 was the budgeted value for FY24 for roughly 14,000 parcels. A total of $64.2 million collected so far (almost $5 million more than the projected $59.3 million collected in FY23). That increase is your money.

The senior population is now a larger percentage of the population than the under-18 population. What is needed to keep seniors and working families in their homes and attract young people to Juneau to balance out our population? There’s just one answer — we need to make Juneau more affordable.

So what sense is there in raising property tax on housing every year when we carry between $50-$60 million in restricted and unrestricted budget reserves? None. If this community wants to grow, it first needs to address the basic needs of its current population.

First, stop over-collecting taxes. Second, stop over-collecting taxes, Third, stop over-collecting taxes.

Make it affordable to live here. The 10.16 mill rate will be reduced by 0.47 as the debt service declines from 1.2 to 0.73. Why not lower the mill rate even further to keep the population we have here housed and attract new population? The Assembly during its retreat this weekend needs to actually ask for a plan to return over-collected taxes or a plan to use the over-collected tax for lowering property taxes for the next year or two.

It is Juneau taxpayers’ money that is filling the unrestricted reserve budget coffers well above normal levels; it is Juneau taxpayers’ money that is being appropriated to accounts for projects that voters have rejected. Leave the money in the taxpayers’ home budgets where they can use it to pay their mortgage or rent, or use it for food, medical and transportation costs.

Making Juneau a more affordable place for the people living here is a great starting place for any budget.

Ken Koelsch is a former mayor of Juneau.


  1. “We might not be privy to what the Assembly’s agenda is, but we need to begin with the premise that it wants to do the right thing.”

    The level of naivete and sheer ignorance in that statement is positively breathtaking.

    When dealing with radical leftists, it is essentially ALWAYS correct to presume that they want to do the wrong/stupid/destructive/liberty-destroying thing. Because, like the scorpion in Aesop’s fable, it is simply their nature.

    • Beat me to it. Why anyone who lives here thinks the Faux Junta intends to do the “right thing” is either delusional or willfully ignorant.

      History show exactly the opposite.

      • Even more astounding is that such an idea would come from a former mayor who was reputedly of a conservative bent. But, then again, when I think on it, I cannot recall Koelsch ever making any significant tax cuts or doing any real budget reductions in his time…..

        • We’ve had two sorta conservatives in the last 15 years.

          One was Wade Bryson who appears to have chugged the kool aid deeply.

          The other was Cathy Munoz. She stepped onto a rake all by herself.

      • I could express my sympathy to you, TMA, for having to live under the iron thumb of the insane Marxist cabal who rules in Juneau, but living in the municipality of Anchorage (until Eaglexit takes effect), I am in the very same tyrannical sinking boat that you are.

        • Sad thing is, I love this community. Warts and all. For years I wanted to retire and grow old here.

          But the sad truth is the wannabe oligarchs and idiot progressives are pushing people out of their “utopia”.

          The day is coming when remaining will no longer be a fiscally viable option. Sooner than I want.

        • Its not any better in Haines, or almost anywhere else in Alaska that I know of. Most of the sane people have left and the ones that remain either have their hand out or are dishonest actors seeking communist style government control.

    • They think they are living the right way. They aren’t living behind another’s skin to see what their eyes are seeing. I wonder if a stubborn person ever looked deep into another’s eyes while each were taking turns talking with one another? To be wondering I wonder what they really are thinking as they are speaking. Wondering who’s behind their eyes? Cause a stubborn person only reflects on him self and adamant toward getting their way. They don’t even see the people around them.

      Ken Koelsh his writing displays he been in Juneau a very long time he could had written this article twent years ago. It’s exactly what Juneau was talking about their concern how to increase more young families and keep more its children from moving away from them permanently. The people there they still living within their own skin, they stubbornly refuse seeing their town from another lens not their own.

  2. Allow me to take a drive down reality street.

    The Faux Junta doesn’t care.
    The Faux Junta doesn’t care.
    The Faux Junta doesn’t care.

    Like any good set of Communists, they believe all money is theirs. Not the peoples’. They and only they know what we really need. We tell them no, they do it anyway. They do not take us seriously because they know come election time they can count of the right people to vote, and most people will not bother to vote at all.

    Until CBJ actually bothers to vote the fools out, the fiscal beatings will continue. And frankly, we deserve it.

  3. Also don’t overlook the contingent of very well to do here who desperately want us to shrink. They want to turn us into Petersburg. Move the capital, shut down the mines, kill tourism. Make us into a bit nicer version of Elfin Cove.

    They somehow think they can run off most the population and industry while still hanging onto the hospital, Freddy’s, most of the restaurants. And multiple fights out daily. Plus build the Taj Mahal and the latest incarnation of New JACC.

  4. Keep in mind this is the same “brain trust” (I know, me too) who want to push a profitable gift shop out of the airport for…reasons?

    I’m guessing the “wrong people” own the business.

    Kill another small business and put more people out of work in pursuit of a Communist utopia.

  5. Ken! While reading your article I thought, if just for a moment, I was back in your classroom in old Juneau Douglas High School! You were one of the best educators back some 50 years ago and it appears that you’ve not lost your didactic genius.

    Thanks for the blast from the past, I hope your wisdom hasn’t fallen upon deaf and dare I say DUMB ears in Juneau. We can only hope and pray.

    • Robert, I must concur with your view of “Mr. Koelsch” being a stand-out teacher during our matriculation. Few truly stand out to his level; he had a gift for connecting with students. It is uplifting to see him contributing fundamental wisdom publicly as displayed in this article. Here’s to the past; here’s to the future.

  6. Politicians have learned that they can lie to and steal from the voter and still get elected.
    People need to wake up before we crash hard.

      • VC, the problem is that even the most glaringly obvious facts are frequently completely opaque to radical leftists, who appear to inhabit an imaginary world that exists only in their tortured and fevered minds.

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