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ACT, let it go

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers got a taste of its own medicine in the October 2006 municipal election and is finding it to be a bitter pill to swallow.

In the 2005 municipal election, ACT got Proposition 5 on the ballot, which sought to roll back an assembly-approved sales tax increase and cap the tax rate at 2 percent without the approval of 60 percent of voters. Assembly members opposed Prop 5 and ACT’s other initiative — Prop 4 — that sought to cap the amount the assembly could spend on a capital project at $1 million without 60 percent voter approval. Both propositions passed.

The measures made it even more difficult for the assembly to manage the finances of the borough, at a time when rising retirement, insurance, fuel and other costs already were threatening to drag the municipality into the red. But the voters had spoken, so the assembly accepted the outcome of the election and labored under the new restrictions.

In the 2006 municipal election ACT sought to have the entirety of the sales tax ordinance repealed. The ordinance created a new way of taxing recreational package sales, permitted the use of Land Trust account funds for general budget expenditures, as well as raised the borough’s sales tax from 2 to 3 percent. Even though ACT’s Prop 5 in the 2005 election rolled back and capped the sales tax increase at 2 percent, since the entire ordinance was up for a vote as Prop 2 in 2006, that meant the sales tax was in play again, as well.

This time Prop 2 was defeated at the polls, meaning the sales tax increase and other stipulations of the ordinance stood, although the assembly has yet to raise the tax rate.

The voters had spoken. So what did ACT do? It sued.

The group filed a civil suit against the borough, alleging that it is violating the ACT-supported ordinances governing the collection of sales taxes and spending on capital projects.

ACT contends that the 2-percent sales tax cap and requirement that 60 percent of voters approve an increase remains in effect, even though Prop 2 was defeated at the polls.

The group also contends that the borough violated the dictates of 2005’s Prop 4, which restricts capital project appropriations to $1 million without 60 percent voter approval. ACT cites two supposed violations, when the assembly approved spending up to $2 million on a lease-purchase agreement to replace a CT scanner machine for South Peninsula Hospital in Homer, and when it awarded a $977,170 construction contract for replacing the Spruce Creek Bridge in Seward, which couldn’t accommodate large fire engines. With all the design services and other costs, the total ended up around $1.2 million.

The borough contends it didn’t break the law because the CT scanner is a removable piece of equipment that replaced an existing machine, and the Seward bridge was an emergency matter — a situation that ACT’s initiative didn’t provide for.

It is now up to the court to decide which side is right, and it’s no surprise the judicial system is being asked to referee.

ACT has shown itself to be lacking in common sense; now the group is proving to be petty, as well. For all its talk of the supremacy of the will of the people, ACT members have shown themselves unwilling to accept that will when it contradicts their own. Voters didn’t support ACT in 2006, so now ACT is hoping the court will indulge its wishes.

On the borough’s end, the assembly is trying to carry out its duty to efficiently provide for the needs of its constituents under the constraints of restrictive and undemocratic laws.

Should Homer residents go without a new CT scanner, or Seward residents make do with a bridge that constitutes a safety hazard until next October when the matter can be voted on? Or should the borough — and by extension, taxpayers — shoulder the cost of a special election so maintenance and service projects can be completed in a timely matter?

For an organization that rails so vehemently against governmental waste and overspending, ACT apparently thinks nothing of forcing the borough to spend money and employees’ time (which equals money) dealing with its onerous initiatives and court battles.

But the borough is skirting the law — their laws — ACT contends. If the court finds that to be the case, then it’s because the laws are an impediment to the borough serving the needs of its residents. Elections take time and money, and seeking a 60 percent supermajority approval of voters to conduct business is overly restrictive, undemocratic and simply wrong.

A 60 percent voter approval rate is difficult to achieve, when anything over 55 percent is generally considered a landslide. A look back at the last five years’ municipal elections reveals examples of capital projects that won majority voter approval but wouldn’t have passed ACT’s 60-percent requirement.

Do you like the idea of an expanded Central Peninsula Hospital with a family friendly atmosphere and state-of-the-art equipment? Too bad. If ACT’s ordinance had been in effect in 2003, the hospital bonds package would have failed, since it garnered 53 percent approval.

In 2002 only 55 percent of voters approved upgrades at the Central Peninsula Landfill.

In the 2005 election, the proposition to build and equip a new fire station in Kasilof and renovate one in Funny River only garnered 59 percent approval.

While we applaud citizen interest in politics and the desire to not let government grow beyond its constituents’ needs, we don’t approve of ACT’s mandate of minority rule and its attempts to sabotage the assembly.

If ACT members want to wield that much authority over the workings of the borough, we suggest they run for office and do so as elected representatives.

Until then, hopefully the court will convey a sensible message: You lost. Let it go.



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