Funding vote due Tuesday

Posted: Friday, March 26, 2004

Kenai Peninsula voters have just a few more days to weigh in on the question of borough funding for cocurricular activities for students.

Ballots must be turned in to the borough clerk's office at the Borough Building in Soldotna, to the city annex in Homer, or the city clerks' offices in Seldovia or Seward by 5 p.m. Tuesday. Borough clerk Linda Murphy said ballots can be mailed in, but recommended dropping them off at a designated site at this point. The 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline is not a postmark deadline, she said. The ballots must be received by that time.

Results are expected to be available starting Thursday afternoon, said Murphy.

The special, mail-in ballots were issued to voters by mail earlier this month. The single ballot question -- Proposition No. 1 -- asks for a citizen advisory vote to gauge whether the borough should be able to fund cocurricular activities in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District "outside the cap" -- or above the amount municipalities generally are allowed to contribute to school district budgets.

Specifically, the proposition reads: "Do you approve the exercise of powers necessary for the Kenai Peninsula Borough to directly fund cocurricular activities for the school district in addition to operating funds currently authorized by law?"

The question goes on to explain that such funding could come from a tax increase not to exceed .5 mills ($50 on every $100,000 of assessed property). Such an increase could raise about $2,128,928 per year, based on current taxable property in the borough, the ballot says. At present, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District spends about $1.2 million to fund activities, though that's only about one-third the cost of operating the programs, which include not only sports, but also drama, debate, dance and academic-based clubs and competitions.

Though the ballot question does deal in numbers, Joe Arness, a former school board member and member of the district's task force that recommended the measure, said last month that voters don't have the authority to levy taxes. Thus, he said, the election is only an advisory vote.

Furthermore, Borough Assembly member Paul Fischer said the assembly could fund the activities without voter support or vice versa. And, he added, funding the activities could include a tax increase, but the borough also may be able to contribute the money without further burden on taxpayers.

So far, the borough clerk's office has received about 8,100 ballots from residents weighing in on the question.

"We don't know if we'll be counting all of those," Murphy said, explaining that the ballots have not been checked for the necessary signatures or against voter registration records. "Well be counting as many as are proper."

She added, "It's actually a fairly good turnout for a special election."

The ballots, which were sent to 36,528 registered voters in the district in early March, must be signed by the voter. Voters also must have the signature of a witness.

Murphy explained that there are two options for the witness signature. Usually, the signature of an official is preferred. An official is anyone who is empowered by law to administer an oath. That includes a notary public, a postmaster or an election official.

However, voters who do not have reasonable access to such an official -- for example, someone who works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- can obtain the signature of any adult over the age of 18 as a witness.

"We're not out policing to see whether an official was readily available," she said. "We just want it witnessed."

Voters also must include an "identifier" in the designated area on the ballot envelope. An identifier is either the voter's identification number, Social Security number or birth date.

To be counted, all ballots must include at least one identifier, the voter's signature and the witness signature. Voters also must be registered to vote within the borough at least 30 days prior to the election.

Once all ballots are received at the Borough Building, picked up from Homer and Seward and flown in from Seldovia, officials will begin checking the authenticity of the ballots -- probably Wednesday. Envelopes then will be opened and run through the ballot reader April 1, Murphy said.

Results will be available online at the borough's Web site as soon as possible on the afternoon of April 1, she said.

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