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Assembly lowers threshold for voters to change sales tax rate, postpones vote on by-mail elections

Posted: June 18, 2014 - 10:00am  |  Updated: June 18, 2014 - 9:24pm

Discussion of voters and taxes dominated a nearly four-hour meeting Tuesday night.

While the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly postponed its vote on an ordinance that would require borough elections to be held by mail, it did narrowly pass an ordinance to change the 60 percent voter approval requirement to a simple majority to increase the cap on sales tax.

Assembly member Brent Johnson sponsored the ordinance. He gave three reasons for introducing the ordinance.

According to borough code, sales tax can only be applied to the first $500 of each sale. Johnson said while that number stays the same, inflation occurs, so it is “improper to set it at a super-majority threshold.”

Voters passed the initiative to set the 60 percent requirement to change the sales tax in 2005 by 54.2 percent. Johnson said while it’s noble to try to keep taxes down, he doesn’t think it’s noble that 54 percent of voters can set a 60 percent threshold.

“Could they have chose 70 percent?” Johnson said. “Could 51 percent of the people choose a threshold of 80 percent? It’s completely capricious.”

He said it is a matter of equality. Considering the issue by individuals, if someone wants to change the sales tax, his or her vote isn’t equal to those who do not want change.

“Everybody is equal and everybody should have an equal vote,” Johnson said.

Assembly member Charlie Pierce said he can see the merits in the presented points, but didn’t want to undermine the initiative process.

Assembly member Kelly Wolf said it was an “embarrassment” to consider the ordinance; the assembly needs to listen to the voters.

If there is a funding crisis, assembly member Wayne Ogle said voters can consider that and he doesn’t think there will be a problem to get 60 percent of voters to pass a sales tax increase.

Johnson said he doesn’t like to get into a crisis and have to scramble to adjust funds to account for a crisis.

The ordinance passed with five votes in favor cast by assembly members Johnson, Bill Smith, Hal Smalley, Sue McClure and Mako Haggerty.

The assembly postponed an ordinance to hold elections by-mail to the July 1 meeting to allow for time for a resolution to come forward to ask for an advisory vote at the Oct. 7 election.

Assembly member Dale Bagley said an ordinance that changes the way elections are held should go to voters.

“I just think going through a process to vote on this would be very good education for people in the borough,” he said.

A consent agenda item to introduce an ordinance to put a proposition on the Oct.7 ballot to implement a 4 percent bed tax was taken up in the regular agenda. After hearing from multiple members of the public at the meeting, the assembly voted to hold two public hearings on the issue at 6 p.m. at the July 1 and July 22 assembly meetings in the assembly chambers at the George A. Navarre Administration Building in Soldotna.

Reach Kaylee Osowski at kaylee.osowski@peninsulaclarion.com.

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