Initiatives aim to give voters more say in borough finances

Posted: Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers, which last week filed an initiative they say would give voters more control over capital spending by the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, filed a second volley at borough financial policy Monday with another initiative that would prevent increases in property taxes without approval of 60 percent of voters.

Actually, three versions of the initiative were filed, labeled ACT IV, ACT V and ACT VI.

ACT IV would lower the boroughwide property tax cap from 8 mills to its current level at 6.5 mills.

ACT V includes the features of ACT IV but would add a freeze on residential, senior citizen and disabled veterans property tax exemptions at current levels.

ACT VI has all the features of ACT V, plus would repeal property tax appeal filing fees recently enacted by the borough assembly.

If they make it to the ballot and are passed by voters this coming fall, the initiative-driven changes in the law would make it a requirement that future alterations be adopted only after approval by 60 percent of voters.

"These initiatives will not force any tax cuts," ACT President Mike McBride said. "This will force the assembly and administration to justify how public money is spent to the taxpayers who ultimately pay the bills."

The borough has until April 18 to verify co-sponsor signatures and certify the initiatives.

Last week's petition drew mixed reviews from members of the assembly.

The petition would require the borough to cap the amount of money it can spend on capital projects, including grant money, without a vote of the people at $1 million. Right now, the ceiling is $1.5 million.

"They build all these big buildings and the people don't get a chance to say if they want to pay to maintain those buildings," said Fred Sturman, co-sponsor of the petition. "We just feel that the people should have a right to vote on it."

Assembly President Gary Superman said he is waiting for legal clarification before developing a final opinion. However, he said it could have a negative effect on development in the borough.

"This could have a clear effect on eliminating capital projects in some service areas," Superman said. "I applaud their right (to file a petition) and I support their right. But I may be on the other side of it."

He said he does not see a lot of abuse going on within the system. People are elected to make these decisions, he said.

He said he would like the assembly to have more oversight over substantial grant applications.

Betty Glick, an assembly member from Kenai, said she supports the petition.

"I personally don't have a problem with the people voting for it," Glick said.

The public can scrutinize projects in a way that the assembly may not, she said.

Glick said she did not think it would have a negative impact on development because the public has shown support for capital projects, such as the Central Peninsula General Hospital expansion.

Borough Mayor Dale Bagley said he had no comment on the petition until it becomes certified. The assembly has a self-imposed $1.5 million ceiling before capital projects go to a public vote "and we live with it," Bagley said.

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