Plenty at Stake in Borough Elections

By Heidi Zemach for SCN

Kenai Peninsula Borough voters have the chance to decide some important issues via four ballot propositions at the upcoming elections October 1st.

Absentee in-person voting began on Monday, Sept 16th at the Seward City Clerk’s office and continues Monday through Friday, 8 am – 5 pm through September 30th for city and borough elections.

I voted Did youProposition 1, placed on the ballot via a citizen’s initiative spearheaded by Fred Sturman, of Soldotna, who some may remember as one of the candidates who ran for the Borough Mayor’s seat last year, would increase the residential property tax exemption from $20,000 to $50,000.

While effectively lowering individual property owner’s taxes, it would also mean an estimated $1.3 million loss in revenue to the borough’s General Fund, which is used to pay for things like schools, roads, and other services.

The proposition would reduce the tax revenue that each individual service area uses to respond to emergencies such as fires and other emergencies. Property tax collected by the borough for each area, and distributed back to the service areas based on the mill rate and property values, is used to pay responding personnel, to operate the fire and EMT stations, and to ensure that reliable equipment is ready to respond to emergencies.

Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department File photo,

Bear Creek Volunteer Fire Department File photo,

The Bear Creek Fire Service Area would lose an estimated $26 thousand in revenues, and the Seward-Bear Creek Flood Service Area would lose $8,725 in revenues. The latter being money used to help prevent, or fight flood emergencies.

“That’s quite a significant amount for us and for the borough,” said Bear Creek Fire Chief Mark Beals. The fire station only has about $10 thousand for training and $10 thousand for equipment, and those amounts have been cut back to the bare bones, he said.  The volunteer fire department has had to seek federal funding for ongoing training, such as the upcoming Fire Fighting One class, he said, but even those resources also are becoming more difficult to obtain.

The current mill rate in the local service area is 3.25 (based on $100,000 in property value). It increased by one mill on July 1st, 2013 after a voter-approved $1.4 million bond took effect as the local share of building the new fire station building. That bond measure had been approved by 87-percent of service area voters, Beals said.

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The proposition, if passed, also would reduce the KPB Roads Service Area by $285,401; Central Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area by $90; and the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area by $174,268.

Two other ballot propositions give voters a variety of choices over assembly member term limits.

One proposition would repeal term-limits for assembly members. Currently, assembly members can serve up to two three-year terms, or a total of six years. The other proposition would extend the current term limit to three three-year terms, allowing assembly members to serve a total of nine years.

The change would not affect the three assembly members facing reelection during the 2013, all of whom are in their first term of office. But repealing the earlier citizen-driven law imposing term limits would open Bill Smith (Dist. 8) and Hal Smalley (Dist. 2) to fourth consecutive terms in 2014 if elected. A third consecutive term for Charlie Pierce (Dist. 5) would also become possible. Both Sue McClure, of Seward, who represents District 6, and Mako Haggerty (Dist. 9) would become eligible to run for third terms in 2015.

Finally, there’s a proposition to approve a 20-year school roof bond for almost $23 million that would replace some of the borough school district’s oldest, and most leaky roofs, and create a turf field. The cost to the borough taxpayer would be about $6.77 per $100,000 of property value annually.  The yearly net cost to the borough would be $472,000, if the State of Alaska 70% debt reimbursement program is approved.

The roofs or portions of roof needing replacement have exceeded their expected useful life, and many are as much as 46 years old. Bonding now would allow the district to take advantage of the 70-percent state debt reimbursement, according to a press release by the KPB School District. The roof systems include a 20-year warranty and would therefore be less costly to maintain, and energy measures such as increased roof insulation will be built into the project plans, thus improving the district’s energy costs, the press release said.

“It’s important to protect almost a billion dollars in Borough facility assets. This is responsible stewardship,” said Borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

The work is staggered over three years: in 2014, roofs would be replaced at Kenai Alternative High School, Kenai Middle School, Skyview High School, Tustumena Elementary, and there would be a turf field at Homer High School. In 2015, roofs would be replaced at Homer Middle School, Kenai Central High School, Paul Banks Elementary, Soldotna Middle School. The following year would go to Ninilchik School and Soldotna High School.  The funds are subject to the appropriation process in the Alaska Legislature.

At the borough level, three assembly seats are available, but not District 6-  the Seward area. Wayne Ogle and Steve Chamberlain are on the ballot for the District 3-Nikiski seat; Dale Bagley and Linda Murphy are running for the District 4-Soldotna seat; and Brent Johnson, Travis Swanson and Damon Yerly are running for the District 7-Central Peninsula seat.

Three school board seats are on the ballot. Lynn Hohl, of Seward, who represents District 6-East Peninsula, is up for re-election, she’s running unopposed. So as is Sunni Hilts (District 9-South Peninsula). Daniel Castimore and Shawn Hutchings are competing for the District 1-Kalifornsky seat.

5 Comments

  1. Let’s keep those term limits. Too bad our US Congress/Senate does not have tern limits. Considering there inability to get anything done.

    Also, we know there’s a crisis here for our emergency responders. I don’t plan on voting for anything that is going to take money away from them. And maybe someone could answer for me why the Central Peninsula has paid paramedic emergency responders and locally it is all volunteer (who are wonderful)?

  2. I’d like to hear others’ opinions, but I think that the increased property tax exemption sounds like a good thing for permanent residents – especially low and middle income families lucky enough to own their home and struggling to make ends meet.

    That being said, the decrease in total revenues to the Borough and Service Areas could (and IMO should) be made up in the form of increased mill levys on all taxable properties. According to the election booklet, the amount lost with this change in exemption ($2.5M to general fund and individual service areas) could be made up with a .2 mill increase in taxes on property values greater than $50,000. This means that people with properties worth more than $50,000 (and especially those with properties worth much more) and commercial properties would pay more per year in taxes but residents with low value properties and who are already struggling would see their taxes drop considerably.

    For example, assuming the roughly 13 mill rate in our area – a $100,000 house now pays tax on $80,000 of value – $1040 and a $400,000 house now pays tax on $380,000 of value – $4940.
    With the proposed exemption and 2 mill increase to a 15 mill rate (the .2 mill rate increase would only cover the funds lost to the Borough and not the service areas) to hold the service areas harmless from the change, the $100,000 house would pay tax on $50,000 of value – $750 and the $400,000 house will pay tax on $350,000 – $5250. The $100,000 homeowner would see a 38% tax decrease and the $400,000 homeowner would see a 6% increase in taxes.

    Of course, non-resident owners and businesses would pay the increased mill rate on 100% of their property value since they don’t get a homestead exemption.

    Tell me if I’m wrong, but if the net effect of this proposition is a nominally higher property tax on large landowners, businesses, and non-resident landowners, at the benefit of substantial tax decrease for middle and lower income residents, it sounds like the kind of progressive tax policy we need in the Borough – and the kind of income and property tax structure that made our nation great and our middle class the envy of the world.

    • Thanks for breaking that down Dave. The funds do seem to be inappropriately funneled to the other side of the peninsula also.

      • I find it also discouraging that one candidate for mayor and two candidates for city council did not even bother to submit a picture or a candidate’s statement for the municipal election voter information booklet.

    • Dave for write-in candidate for Mayor of Seward!