Assembly reconsiders food tax measure

After a lengthy debate about the morality of taxing food, funding for public schools, revenue for local cities and questioning voters for a third time on a change to the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s food sales tax structure, the issue has again been put to rest after the borough assembly voted to kill a resolution that would have put it on the ballot in October.

The deciding factor was assembly member Kelly Wolf’s decision to motion for reconsideration after amending the food tax proposal to be put on the ballot during the body’s April 7 meeting.

The assembly passed an ordinance that would have asked voters to decide whether the current food tax structure that the borough collects — a split of a nine-month exemption and three months of additional tax — should be changed to an even six months of collection and six months of exemption. Currently, within the Soldotna and Kenai city limits, the borough collects a 3 percent tax on certain non-prepared food items, which it then returns to the cities, for the entire year. For three months of the year, an additional 3 percent tax is collected, which goes to the borough.

Outside of city limits, the borough collects the 3-percent grocery tax during June, July and August.

Borough sales tax revenue is used to fund schools, though it is not the only funding mechanism the borough uses.

When Wolf’s amendment passed he voted in favor of the resolution — but then motioned for reconsideration of that vote.

“Quite honestly, when I submitted the amendment I didn’t think it would pass. I was kind of shocked that it did and I immediately started thinking about it and just second-guessing myself,” Wolf said after changing his vote and putting the issue to rest. “I had a lot of people between the last assembly meeting and today approach me and tell me, ‘Why are you sending this to us a third time. We voted on it.’”

During the meeting in Seward, assembly member Brent Johnson said he considered the food tax structure a social issue.

“Voters are the ones that should decide social issues and I would very much like them to decide that issue,” he said. “I’ve heard loud and clear from a number of constituents that say they don’t want a six-month exemption, they would prefer to have a nine-month exemption. But I’ve also heard from a lot of other constituents that say just the opposite.”

Reach Rashah McChesney at rashah.mcchesney@peninsulaclarion.com or follow her on Twitter @litmuslens.

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