The Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly will consider and hear public feedback Tuesday on two proposed ordinances concerning increasing the sales tax and extending term limits.
The first, Ordinance 2011-23 carried by assembly members Bill Smith and Linda Murphy, would ask voters in October’s borough-wide election to consider increasing the borough’s sales tax by one-tenth of a percent, or from the current 3 percent to 3.1 percent.
The increase, a penny on a $10 sale, would raise an estimated $900,000 per year and would be allocated to fund all things related to economic development.
Those items could include non-departmental agencies like the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, Small Business Development Center, and the Central Area Rural Transit System.
In June, borough mayor David Carey and the assembly wrestled over whether or not to continue funding non-departmentals. Assembly president Gary Knopp said the issue isn’t one unfamiliar to the assembly.
“It has been a source of contention for years and years that we are using taxpayer money to fund certain activities in the borough,” he said.
Assembly members discussed at length a way to provide a designated revenue source for the non-departmentals instead of pulling from the borough’s general fund.
“I never see anything wrong with asking the voters what they think … since they are paying the bill at the end of the day,” Knopp said. “I think this is a valid question.”
Knopp added whether voters approve the measure or not will help the assembly make decisions on non-departmental funding in the future.
Knopp said the measure would have a vote of approval from him.
“If the voters aren’t willing to support it when they are given an opportunity, then maybe we shouldn’t be funding them whatsoever,” Knopp said. “Maybe the voters are telling us, ‘No, we don’t support taxing ourselves to fund that.’ For me, it would sure answer the question for me regarding future decisions.”
Assembly vice president Charlie Pierce agreed, adding he would also support the ordinance.
“I am certainly in support of the non-departmental agencies seeking other methodologies of deriving funds and I think this is a perfect way to find out whether the taxpayers support taxpayer money being used to fund non-departmentals,” he said.
Pierce said he would also lend his support to Ordinance 2011-24, which seeks to add another term to the current term limits on assembly members and redefine what constitutes a term. The ordinance will also be up for public hearing Tuesday.
If the ordinance is approved by the assembly and voters, it would limit assembly members to serving three full terms, an increase from the current two terms, and also redefine a term to be a full three years.
Currently, assembly members are limited to two terms, with the definition of a term being any or all of a three-year term.
“I think it is a good intelligent move to make,” Pierce said. “Being on the borough assembly, well there are a lot of complex issues there and I don’t think they are average, everyday issues that people can grasp right away — they need some time to learn the system and understand the process. If you have never served in government, you are going to be way behind the curve for the next two years.”
Pierce thinks the public would also be better served if individuals were allowed to serve more time, if voters approve. But, he said he still supports the work of the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers, which helped guide the current term limits into existence in 2007.
“They went through a lot of work to get where they are at today, but nevertheless, I think there was some shortsightedness in their efforts and that learning curve is just tough to overcome,” he said.
Knopp, who is sponsoring the ordinance, said the amount of feedback he has heard on the idea has been limited.
“I have not heard a word from anybody on that ordinance,” he said. “I’ve had no phone calls, no emails, absolutely nothing.”
However, Knopp said he expects to hear some voices of opposition Tuesday.
Pierce said the ordinance isn’t about giving more power to assembly members.
“I don’t think it is about power and I don’t think I have ever considered that notion that I’m there to achieve some level of power,” he said. “I am there to serve and I am there to make good decisions and do my very best.”
The initiators of the 2007 term limit ballot measure, Pierce said, thought term limits would eventually spur more people to get involved in the political process.
“I think if you would consider how many people have run unopposed since term limits have been enacted, you would find that the opposite is true,” he said.