North recreation area fees policy questioned

Posted: Thursday, May 26, 2005

A member of the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area board has questioned the legality of a service area policy granting property taxpayers and their families free access to the Nikiski pool while charging other service area residents a fee.

Board member James Price said Tuesday he thinks the policy differentiating between citizens of the service area might violate the equal protection provision of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. He raised the issue at Monday's NPRSA board meeting.

The board took no formal action regarding the matter, but board chair Peter Mysing asked Price to submit his policy question in writing so it could be submitted to Kenai Peninsula Borough Attorney Colette Thompson for a legal opinion on the policy's constitutionality.

The board is not expected to address the issue again before the June 27 board meeting.

Price said he had expected someone to introduce the subject formally Monday but was surprised when it wasn't.

"So I volunteered to introduce a change," he said.

Price said he doesn't think it is legal to treat a resident who owns no real estate in the service area such as a renter differently from his or her property-owning neighbors.

Mysing was not available for comment.

The equal protection provision of the 14th Amendment requires states to ensure their laws are applied evenly to all people within their jurisdictions that is, all citizens are due the equal protection of the laws.

According to an overview available from Cornell University Law School's Legal Information Institute, a violation of the equal protection clause may occur if a state (or a sub-jurisdiction) grants a particular class of individuals the right to engage in an activity but denies other individuals the same right.

However, "there is no clear rule for deciding when a classification is unconstitutional," the overview said.

In some cases, a "legitimate state purpose," or "compelling interest" behind a discriminatory action may meet legal scrutiny and be upheld.

"By denying states the ability to discriminate, the equal protection clause of the constitution is crucial to the protection of civil rights," the overview noted.

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