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Johnson: Good government takes good planning

Posted: September 26, 2013 - 5:01pm

Let’s talk taxes. My property tax statement is in front of me. My wife and I own several pieces of property, none of which are served by a borough maintained road. We, however, pay $474 in Road Service taxes. It may be possible to amend Borough code to exempt road taxes from properties that don’t abut borough maintained roads. But people need good roads on a daily basis, such roads help ambulances get where they need to go, and those roads promote land values. Finally, I believe in unity. That means I pay for some things I don’t benefit from, but the group as a whole, does benefit.

Central Emergency Services (CES) receives a tax for fire and ambulance services. That cost us $865. Once, our kindergartner collided in the Tustumena School playground with an older student. Our son was knocked unconscious and an ambulance took him to the hospital. Later, a CES fire station was built at Kasilof. That construction, and the staffing thereof, costs more than Kasilof residents have paid. Therefore, residents closer to Soldotna are subsidizing the Kasilof Fire Station and its ambulance service.

In many cases reductions in home insurance rates offset the CES tax, meaning many residents get a great deal with fire and ambulance services. At this election voters will consider Proposition 1, which could raise the $20,000 homeowner exemption to $50,000. The current exemption saves me $171 and a $50,000 exemption would add an additional savings of $257, but it will cost CES $350,000, Roads $285,000 and the general fund $1,300,000.

I have attended many CES board meetings and found out they have six fire stations that serve 25,000 of the borough’s 56,000 residents. They have many volunteers who get a stipend when training or responding to calls. To absorb the $350,000 cut, that stipend will be reduced. The CES dive team will be cancelled. If a child falls through lake ice or a car gets submerged, it could cost lives. It will mean a pay cut for dive-trained fire fighters. Finally, the K-Beach station will often be closed. Insurance rates for affected houses will probably rise. If an affected homeowner saves two or three hundred dollars from tax reductions, but pays a similar amount in higher insurance premiums, he loses services without gaining money.

Considering the fact that the Borough and School District are both currently spending some of their Fund Balances and health care expenses continue to drive costs up, tax rates will likely rise. When they do, businesses won’t get residential exemptions. Neither will Caribou Hills cabins. Neither will beach cabins. Neither will vacant lots. And the owners of them will pick up the shifted tax burden.

As an Assemblyman, I like to think things through. Median property taxes in the KPB rank 8th lowest among 18 Alaskan boroughs. I’m all for cutting taxes and supported the privatization of the Homer solid waste transfer site. That saves $200,000 annually without any loss of services. Good government takes planning.

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