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Pondering the ballot propositions

Posted: September 21, 2013 - 11:28am

When voters go to the polls on Oct. 1, they will be asked to consider four boroughwide ballot propositions. One is a citizen initiative to increase the residential property tax exemption. The second would allow the borough to bond for school building projects. The last two were put on the ballot by the borough assembly and ask voters about assembly term limits.

While voters will have the choice of “yes” or “no” on the ballot, the potential effects of passing or rejecting each measure are certainly more complex than that. We encourage voters to carefully study the propositions, and cast a well informed vote on election day.

Some things to consider when pondering the propositions:

■ Proposition 1 would increase the allowable property tax exemption for a property owner’s permanent residence from $20,000 to $50,000. While any effort to reduce the tax burden on residents should be considered, increasing the tax exemption is not the way to accomplish that. Increasing the property tax exemption may save some residents a few bucks, but it shifts a burden onto someone else, either because the mill rate will be raised, or services will be cut. Neither option is appealing.

Borough residents already enjoy a generous tax exemption — one for which non-resident property owners aren’t eligible. Tax revenue covers services important to full time residents — schools, solid waste management, emergency response. Making others pick up more of the tab for the services we want just isn’t responsible tax policy. Voters should reject Proposition 1.

■ Proposition 2 would allow the borough to bond for $22,987,000 for capital improvements to the area’s schools — namely roof replacements — as well as an artificial turf field at Homer High School. Bonds would qualify for 70 percent debt reimbursement from the state.

The borough has some 1,861,400 square feet of roofs on school district buildings to maintain. The roofing on many of those structures is at or well past its life expectancy; as any property owner knows, a leaky roof can lead to all sorts of other damage, both to the structure of the building as well as the valuable items housed inside. With school district buildings valued at $907 million, and the contents and equipment inside at $37 million, fixing the roof is a prudent and necessary investment. Voters should vote yes on Proposition 2.

■ Propositions 3A and 3B pertain to the ongoing discussion of term limits for borough assembly members.

Proposition 3A would repeal the current assembly term limit of two consecutive 3-year terms, after which an assembly member must take a break before running again.

This proposition was sent to voters after being proposed by members of the assembly. At that time, we argued in this space that because it was voters who enacted term limits, it should be voters who decide to repeal them. Voters now have that opportunity, and should take it. Term limits have done little to enhance borough government; voter apathy and lack of interest are much bigger concerns.

In fact, there are multiple candidates running for all three assembly seats up for election on Oct. 1 — and none of the seats are open due to term limits. That sounds like a pretty healthy democratic process. Voters should vote yes to repeal term limits.

Should Proposition 3A be rejected, voters have the option of amending the current law by increasing the number of consecutive terms an assembly member can serve from two to three. If voters truly want to keep term limits in place as a matter of government policy and not simply because they’re not happy with the person currently filling the seat, three consecutive terms is a much more reasonable approach to doing so.

However you feel about borough government — too big, lacking, or just about right — the propositions give voters the opportunity to ensure that it remains of the people, for the people and by the people. Please read up on the measures, consider the potential pros and cons, and remember to cast your vote on Election Day.

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