Borough mayor’s proposals a good point to start at


Posted: Sunday, April 02, 2006

Budget talk is no fun — especially when it centers on spending less and not more. It’s easy just to let one’s eyes glaze over, chalk up the need for belt tightening to a bloated bureaucracy and ignore the debate.

Nevertheless, Kenai Peninsula Borough residents need to pay attention in upcoming weeks as the assembly studies some changes being proposed by Mayor John Williams aimed at ensuring the borough maintains a firm financial footing.

The mayor’s proposals are far from draconian; in fact, he does not suggest an increase in the property tax rate.

But there would be other changes, including one which would eliminate the unlimited property tax exemption for senior citizens and disabled veterans. The state currently mandates an exemption of $150,000. The Kenai Peninsula Borough is the only one in the state that provides for an unlimited exemption. Williams proposes capping the exemption at $200,000.

It’s a reasonable proposal. The borough no longer can afford to be unlimited in its generosity. Exemptions could be made in hardship cases.

That the borough has managed to maintain the exemption for so long is evidence of how good residents have it when it comes to paying property taxes. That the proposal is to cap the exemption at $200,000 shows that the borough isn’t on a downward spiral.

Williams’ other proposals also are laced with common sense, including raising the biennial motor vehicle tax and charging service areas for administrative services provided by the borough government.

No one likes to pay more in taxes, but we suspect most borough residents don’t want to see a reduction in the services they receive, either.

Kenai Peninsula residents who think they pay too much in taxes and get too little for what they do pay should talk to friends and families in other states. In 2005, the nation’s average state-local tax burden was 10.1 percent of residents’ income, with the highest being Maine’s 13 percent and the lowest being Alaska’s 6.4 percent, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan educational organization.

When it comes to budgets and taxes, it’s easy to oversimplify and blast government as bloated and inefficient. It’s easy to forget that there are lots of services most people want and depend on government to provide — everything from schools, to police protection, to roads cleared of snow. It’s also easy to forget that the borough encompasses a huge area, consequently raising the cost of doing business.

Because budget talk tends to get boring, there’s the potential for discussions to get off track into generalities that don’t serve anyone well. It would be wrong for those dissatisfied with borough government to derail the budget proposals with arguments that the borough should become more efficient before implementing other changes. At the same time, borough officials should not dismiss the arguments as being from people who don’t know what they are talking about.

This is a great time for elected officials and residents to work together on charting a course for the borough’s financial future. Williams’ preliminary budget proposals provide a great starting point.

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