Road money, appeals fee face consent

Posted: Monday, February 14, 2005

A relatively short agenda awaits the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Tuesday, but there are two ordinances up for public hearing and final action that would have immediate impacts on some borough residents.

Ordinance 2004-19-34 would accept a $909,700 state grant for improvements to Keystone Drive Road, a collector road along the Kenai River that serves local residents, tourist businesses, federally managed and private park facilities and a public boat launch.

Among the borough's road priorities seeking state aid since 2002, the project already has won promise of $3 million in federal funds, thanks to community efforts. The money to be appropriated in the ordinance is part of that funding and will be used to begin the project. A local match of $90,300 is required.

According to the draft ordinance, the proposed road improvements will have major economic benefits to the borough road service area and will enhance the health and safety of area residents, as well as have a positive influence on the Kenai River environment.

Public facilities along the road attract more traffic than the narrow, unpaved section of borough road can stand, according to residents of the road that runs along the north side of the Kenai River. Maintenance of the roadway is split, with the state and the city of Soldotna managing a paved portion, and the borough the unpaved portion.

In public testimony in January 2004, Keystone resident Jane Madison told the assembly that, although there were only 50 full-time residents living on the unpaved section in midwinter 2003, a road department traffic count taken at that time showed some 256 vehicles per day used the road.

"During July, with approximately 100 full-time property owners present, the count varied from 1,320 to 1,580 vehicles a day, with an average daily count of 1,362," Madison said. "And this was not taken at the peak of the salmon run."

Roads Director Gary Davis said that at this time it is still unclear exactly what the project will include or its final cost. Those are among the details to be decided in the coming months. A final design would be based on the anticipated amount of dollars for the project, he said.

Also up for public hearing is Ordinance 2005-03, a measure that would amend the borough code to require a filing fee for appeals to the board of equalization.

Currently, the borough charges no filing fee. But the average cost of most appeals is approximately $1,000, according to the borough assessor's office, and can include staff time, inspections, informal adjustment meetings, printing and packet deliveries and final presentation before the BOE. That cost is borne by borough taxpayers in general with no cost to the appellant.

Administration officials believe charging a fee would discourage frivolous appeals and help offset costs incurred for such appeals. Reducing appeals would improve appraisers' productivity in the field.

Where taxpayers' appeals actually result in a reduction of assessed value, or where appeals are withdrawn, filing fees would be returned, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance proposes a $30 filling fee for property valued at less than $100,000. For properties between $100,000 and $500,000, the fee would be $100. Properties valued between $500,000 and $2 million would require a $200 fee, and properties valued in excess of $2 million would require a $1,000 fee.

Over the past five years, the borough Board of Equalization has heard some 146 appeals out of 2,280 actually filed.

The borough looked at the experience of two other communities that instituted filing fees.

Ketchikan, for instance, saw 140 filings in 2000 resulting in 62 going before a BOE. A fee was established in 2001. That year saw 104 filings with 11 going to the BOE. That fell to 58 and 3 in 2002, jumped a bit to 78 and 11 in 2003, and fell again to 57 and 7 in 2004.

Anchorage had a similar experience. An average of 2,263 appeals were filed annually in the years 2000 through 2003, with an average of 662 being heard per year (for a total of 2,645 during the four years). A fee instituted in 2004 resulted in a drop in appeals to 701 that year, with just 302 going to the board.

The assembly also will consider Ordinance 2005-02, which would incorporate the goals of the Soldotna Action Plan into the 1995 Soldotna Comprehensive Plan. Action on that ordinance was postponed until Tuesday at the Feb. 1 meeting.

Community residents and business owners along the Sterling Highway have expressed interest in beautifying properties along the highway. The action plan goals include:

n Enhancing landscaping, beautification and environmental protection awareness of the commercial and limited districts.

n Promoting the use of limited commercial districts for new business and to expand existing business.

n Educating local residents and tourists about the history of Soldotna and its surrounding areas.

n Educating the public about the Soldotna Municipal Code.

n Creating a template plan for storefront beautification.

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