Assembly says no to beautification plan

Tax break proposal rejected

Posted: Thursday, February 07, 2002

Raising the aesthetics of the neighborhood by beautifying your private property may be a welcome -- and expensive -- gesture. But it isn't worthy of a tax break, as far as the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is concerned.

Assembly members turned thumbs down Tuesday on an ordinance that would have given every property owner in the borough a shot at a four-year tax break, exempting from taxes any increase in assessed value attributable to beautification projects on their property. Such an exemption already exists, but is applicable only to properties within 150 feet of rivers and streams.

Ordinance 2001-46, sponsored by assembly members Gary Superman of Nikiski and Ron Long of Seward would have extended the exemption to all borough property owners on the theory that the economic incentive would have promoted projects that would have bettered borough communities.

The measure lost on a 3-to-5 vote.

Such ordinances exist in other Alaska cities, but applications for exemptions are rare, assembly members noted. Further, members expressed concern about the possible bureaucratic impact if such an exemption proved popular.

"How much time are we talking about for our assessing department to go out (and do inspections)?" said assembly member Milli Martin, of Diamond Ridge.

"I look at this as being a potential problem for someone who comes in at any given moment when their assessment goes up and tries to argue that it's because of his beautification," said assembly member Chris Moss of Homer. "I'm worried that that is going to be the issue here rather than the actual results."

The thought behind the measure was admirable, Moss said, but similar ordinances in Fairbanks, on the books since 1985, and in Seward since 1999, have yet to result in a single qualifying exemption.

Although she voted for the measure, assembly member Grace Merkes of Sterling said it could create a paper work nightmare for the borough clerk's office. She also pointed out that the current near-river exemption has only been granted to a few properties since its inception in 2000, exempting their owners of a total of just $200 in taxes.

Superman argued that that didn't matter.

"This body did start this process with the river property," he said. "At that time, I don't think anybody thought this would be a waste of time."

He said he wished there were more ways to exempt properties if it would spur people to clean up or otherwise improve their properties. He also said he wished such an exemption had been available in recent years when he invested in improvements to his own property. It would have been "a fair chunk of change in my pocket."

Joining Superman and Merkes in voting for the measure was assembly president Tim Navarre, of Kenai.

The assembly also considered a proposal to require developers to adhere to stiffer road standards in new subdivisions. The controversial measure has been opposed by some developers and real estate agents who have warned it could stifle subdivision development.

Further discussion of the measure was postponed. It will get at least three more hearings, including one at the Feb. 19 meeting.

In other business, the assembly:

Adopted ordinance 2001-19-29 appropriating $271,028 of National Aeronautics and Space Administration funds for satellite imagery of 60 square miles of spruce forest between Kenai and Nikiski. State and national foresters believe new imaging technology will be able to differentiate between healthy trees, beetle-infected trees and dead trees, showing where the leading edge of beetle infestation is. That could give foresters information valuable in harvest planning. If it works, the idea could be applied statewide.

Adopted ordinance 2002-02 extending a Kenai Peninsula Borough Road Service Area matching-grant program to substandard gravel roads already maintained by the borough. Until the change, the funds were only available to unmaintained gravel roads, or to maintained roads ready to be paved.

Postponed movement on ordinance 2002-05, a measure authorizing the signing of a new lease and operating agreement between the borough and Central Peninsula General Hospital Inc. The ordinance gets another public hearing Feb. 19. Its provisions have been tentatively agreed to by both sides.

Declined to reconsider an ordinance adopted by a 5-4 vote Jan. 22 adding Miller's Landing to the Kachemak Emergency Service Area.

Declined to reconsider a resolution that failed Jan. 22 by a 4-5 vote that would have put the assembly on record as opposing a move by the city of Homer to annex about 4.6 square miles of surrounding territory.

Passed resolution 2002-018 supporting borough efforts to host the 2006 Arctic Winter Games.

The borough also introduced several ordinances, including one to spend almost $230,000 from the Land Trust Fund balance for further excavation and remediation of contaminated soils at Nanwalek Elementary-High School, and another appropriating $75,000 to study the feasibility of a ferry service crossing Kachemak Bay. Hearings are set for March 12.

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