Tower of Power II: Juneau again debates building a new city hall


Opinions are flying back and forth in Juneau, with differing sides of a contentious spending proposal being debated in the local newspaper and on talk radio.

Juneau voters will decide — once again — if they want to pay for a new City Hall.

The current City Hall has been allowed to deteriorate and become unsightly, and some say that has been part of the master plan to convince taxpayers to pay for a spendy new building for city offices.

There’s a lot of anger at city government in Juneau right now, even more so than when the city removed the senior sales tax exemption in 2015. The discontent is widespread and deep this time.

The City and Borough of Juneau asked voters last year to approve spending on a new city hall. Voters declined the offer.

In June of this year, the Juneau Assembly voted unanimously to spend $50,000 to convince voters again to approve a $27 million bond issue, which would only partially fund the new city hall.

This, after the Assembly just approved the largest municipal operating budget in the history of Juneau.

The sides have lined up, with mostly city officials pushing hard in favor of the new building and saying it’s better to own a building than to rent. But the city leaders have offended more than a few voters by using taxpayer money to convince those same taxpayers to cough up even more money.

The new city hall is identical to the one that voters turned down just a year ago, but costs are probably not the same. Like everything else, project costs are subject to inflation, and the interest rate has doubled since last year, when voters last voted on this project.

But the city is using the same numbers, as if cost of borrowing hasn’t increased and the cost of materials and labor are static.

The Assembly already appropriated $16.3 million so that it could lower the bond amount requested of voters to $27 million.

Making it worse, Juneau’s population is flat, and school enrollment is down, which is why some voters don’t want to take the risk of bonding.

Some of the best financial analysis done on the new city hall was offered by Bruce Abel, who wrote, “City management has been clear; the existing City Hall needs $14 million of upgrades. Period. And, no matter what the electorate decides, that fact won’t change. However, there’s a missing piece to the CBJ’s argument. If funding the new City Hall ballot measure gains voter approval, the existing building will still need to be repaired. Where’s the funding proposal for that and why isn’t the manager’s office and Assembly including that information as part of their educating the public campaign?”

Abel continued, “What we have is a City Hall building that’s been so poorly maintained it is unsellable in its current condition and unaffordable if improved. That is, unless the CBJ sells the building at a considerable loss. I doubt this critical point has been missed by city management. So will the existing City Hall become the next Mt. Jumbo Gym? Or is there another plan for the building we don’t know?”

Across the street from the existing City Hall is the Sealaska building which is much larger and has been impeccably maintained, Abel wrote. It is assessed at $6.9 million.

“Our city leaders tell us our new assessments are now accurate and unimpeachable. Therefore, if you wanted to buy the existing City Hall building, which we’re told is worth $4 million, and the building needs $14 million in repairs and upgrades, then the actual cost to an investor, before the existing City Hall building can be occupied, is $18 million. What investor would do that? The numbers don’t add up. Juneau taxpayers are either going to spend $14 million, or $55 million, which is the combined cost of repairs and cost to build new. In the future, will Juneau voters be asked to float a bond to repair the existing building for some unspecified CBJ use?”

On the other hand, if voters turn down the new city hall for a second time, the Assembly will have $16 million they can use to repair the existing city hall, with no additional taxes or mill rate increases, he said.

“The Goldbelt building has 24,000 square feet of vacant space available which can be used to house displaced city staff while repairs and upgrades are under way. And thanks to the Assembly, we even have an extra $2 million to cover temporary relocation costs as the existing City Hall is repaired, modernized and refitted. That math actually works,” Abel wrote.

The Juneau election is by mail and ends on Oct. 3. Between now and then, the voters in Juneau appear to be up in arms and voting like their pocketbooks depend on it.


  1. I like the idea of moving city hall to the Mt Jumbo gym. Better, to Mt Trashmore.

    It’s been an open secret CBJ let the current building go to force the issue.

    They will not let this go. More, why should they? No matter how much we complain, we keep putting these people back in office. We’ve taught them our words are worthless.

    No matter how many elections we hold, votes we take, objections they lodge, this will happen. Just like new JACC.

  2. Sounds a lot like government! I see you let them build it, and then will get the capital moved up to mainland were belongs. The government should be of the people in for the people and not somebody running from the people. If you have noticed the vast majority of population is on the mainland.

      • Build a road to Juneau from “mainland Alaska?” That would cost more than just moving the capitol to Willow. The move was approved twice and nothing happened. No, no road to Juneau from the “mainland.” Move the capitol closer to all of the people so that people can access their representatives from the Parks or the Glenn Hwy!

  3. Juneau voters seemingly have figured out what a dumpster fire deal the Mayor, Rorie Watt and the entire CBJ Assembly are pushing with this effort to build a new city hall.

    There is no firm price for the proposed new structure. Most adults think the projected price for the new building was low-balled. And the voters have figured out the financing costs are not certain for borrowing the millions necessary to complete this project which is hardly surprising given the CBJ didn’t get a rate lock on financing.

    But the biggest aspect of this project that the voters are on to is that the supposed savings tha the Mayor and Mr. Watt claim will magically appear if we borrow big to build are not likely there. The idea that the CBJ will save money by not renting office space for some of the municipal employees is not backed by significant information. Whatever theoretical savings the CBJ might obtain by building instead of renting will be devoured largely or entirely by the need to maintain and operate the new facility.

    The voters are wary of the data provided by the CBJ Assembly and senior staff, as they should. The information is incomplete, skewed and far from objective. That the CBJ Assembly is using public money derived from the local taxpayers to promote this scheme is another reason many voters are going to turn thumbs down to this project.

    It takes a lot to get Juneau voters riled up. The Mayor and current CBJ Assembly have failed to listen to the electorate and embarked on a scheme that the voters turned down a year ago where there was no organized opposition. The odds are good that the city hall project will get turned down again, as it should.

  4. You Juneau taxpayers it’s just money and you voted for it so pay up your politicians need a expensive show piece to feel good and play in.

  5. If you build it, before the bond is paid off they will be seeking another bond for another new city hall building. Deferred maintenance is bad management.

  6. I have looked at the existing City Hall inside and out. I frankly think its in rather fine condition. It just needs cosmetic work, paint, flooring, more paint, a bit of remodeling and systems work. The dire condition narrative is contrived and blown out of proportion to justify a new building; that’s no secret whatsoever. Bruce Abel is right on all counts.

  7. The Assembly is acting like it’s a done deal. One of them was on the radio the other day discussing new locations. It’s not if it will be built but where, downtown or in the Valley. In addition, we still have a large unfinished project. You know, all those poles and gondola cars spread out along the road to Eaglecrest.

  8. I can understand why there is a “lot of anger at city government right now”.
    The city removed the senior exemption in 2015??? Citizens voted for that or they just strongarmed the retirees to get more money to spend as they see fit while seniors dont get to spend it as they see fit on themselves? Maybe the city thinks or sees too many retired folks dancing in the streets with cash falling out of their pockets or could that be the reason the population/economy is dwindling.
    I just had a conversation with a retired gal who had lived in Juneau 30 years who said she “loved” Juneau but couldnt afford the move back or the cost to live there and now I see her point.
    Retirees spend a fair amount of money on local businesses. Sometimes way more than young families on a limited source of income who have to focus on childrens needs.

    The straw that would break this camel’s back would be the $50.000 spent (again without voter approval) on trying to convince voters a second time that they were wrong the first time and they now get a second chance to get it right using car salesman tactics as to why they HAVE to purchase a shiny new car. (Just walk by a car lot and let your eyes glance at the new model and you will be cornered by three vultures/Mayor and Assembly members in this case)

    Sounds very much like the children on the Anchorage Assembly who will not take NO for an answer and just keep on pissing away tax dollars on the homeless so the “Six figure homeless Czar” can take European vacations while her cronies do her job of building the homeless empire (which actually builds itself via Bidenomics and the munis ability to destroy local business)
    Meg Zaletel is as effective at solving homeless as the Kackling Kamala Harris is at the southern border crisis.

  9. Andy: I’ve little or no sympathy for the ‘senior citizens’ who are opining about having lost their exemption….The majority of them voted to spend tax money year in and year out most of their adult lives, meanwhile being careful to also vote themselves an exception to repaying the money when it would come due.

    • You are right about that group but there is always some with responsible choices that suffer the consequences of those careless voters.
      It often reminds me of an old stones tune…”You dont always get what you want”

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