This question asks voters to reverse measures passed by the Juneau Convention in 2020 and last February that require property sales prices to be shared with the city’s appraiser’s office.
The appraiser’s job is to determine the fair market value of each piece of land in Juneau each year. These values directly affect property tax bills and the bottom line of who pays for city services.
Supporters of the repeal say the mandate is an invasion of privacy and expect it will result in higher property taxes. Most members of the assembly oppose the repeal. They say disclosure of sale prices will lead to fairer and more accurate valuations, particularly for higher quality properties that tend to be undervalued when appraised.
Real estate professionals and developers are leading the repeal effort that began with the citizens’ petition. They often point out how common it is for jurisdictions with mandatory disclosure laws to enact property transfer taxes that they believe increase housing costs.
Here’s how the group leading the lifting effort, Protect Juneau Homeowners’ Privacy, summed it up in a 30-second Facebook video:
This is Gary Stephens. He runs an auto repair shop in Juneau.
Assembly members say the mandate is not about boosting tax revenues.
Mayor Beth Weldon voted against the original mandate and declined to say how she will vote on the repeal issue. But she said she was disappointed by some messages from supporters of the repeal.
“We never said we were going to impose a transfer tax,” Weldon said. “In fact, we didn’t even know what a property transfer tax was until they brought it up. Honestly, we spend millions, and I mean millions of dollars, trying to make housing in Juneau affordable. And why should we make housing more expensive on the one hand and spend millions on the other to make it cheaper? … It just doesn’t make sense.”
No member of the Assembly has taken any action or indicated that they intend to introduce a real estate transfer tax.
Real estate agent Kimmi Ott hosts a podcast called “What Juneau About Real Estate?” In a May episode, she said she just doesn’t buy it.
“The city also said, ‘Oh no, we’re never going to do a real estate transfer tax,'” she said. “I’m calling cops – because you guys didn’t keep your word. You changed the game for everyone!”
She was referring to the disclosure mandate update made by the February meeting. First, the information had to be treated confidentially. But after property owners fought their valuations and demanded more transparency, the assembly relinquished confidentiality.
The February update also added the possibility of fines for non-disclosure. Juneau Assessor Mary Hammond said Wednesday that no one has been fined so far.
The main argument of real estate disclosure advocates is more nuanced. During a forum last week, MP and undisputed candidate Carole Triem said she voted against the repeal and wanted to keep the mandate.
“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she said. “Mandatory disclosure will help reduce property taxes for middle- and low-income homeowners as we balance that with the higher-income properties that don’t come to market as often.”
Let’s unpack this. Why Would Mandatory Disclosures Lead to Lower Property Tax Bills? for middle and low income owners? And why aren’t real estate owners with higher incomes already “compensated”?
Without the mandate, the expert office already had a lot of publicly available market information for common types of real estate sales, such as terraced houses. The more market data it has, the more confident it is that its views are accurate and fair.
But for exceptional properties, such as homes or commercial buildings, the market is much smaller, sales are less frequent and they tend to be private. So the appraisal agency needs to do more guesswork about Juneau’s most prized possessions.
The city’s finance director said in a memo that the appraiser’s office tends to underestimate properties about which they have limited information. The Alaska Legislature’s nonpartisan research service studied the problem in 2014, and its researcher came to the same conclusion at the statewide level.
Generally, Triem believes the mandate will improve valuations of Juneau’s most expensive but generally undervalued properties and have little impact on valuations of more common properties.
“Having that information on the housing market, this crazy housing market that we’ve seen, is only going to help buyers and sellers if they have a fully transparent, you know, view of the housing market,” Triem said. “Based on that, they’re going to be able to make the best decisions without that kind of secrecy and secrecy from the experts, you know, who are sharing that information when they feel it’s going to benefit them.” So I would urge people to vote against voting no on mandatory disclosure.”
The appraised value of a property is only part of your annual tax bill. The basic tax rate, also known as the mill rate, is the other main factor. And every year the Juneau Assembly reviews them again as part of their budgetary process.
For most properties, the tax bill is calculated by simply multiplying the appraised value by the mill rate. For most of Juneau, that rate is 1.056%.
We asked several members of the Assembly what they would do if there were an abrupt rise in property valuations overall. Responses varied, but cutting the property tax rate was on the table.
For more reports and resources on the Juneau municipal elections, visit KTOO’s Local elections page.