Sprague calls for new appeals boards

Assembly member wants appointed experts to address tax, planning disputes

Posted: Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Among the many duties of Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members are hearing citizen appeals of property tax assessments and resolving conflicts arising from decisions made by the borough planning commission.

Now, one assembly member thinks those duties should be handed to appointed boards of experts rather than handled by the assembly.

The Board of Equalization hears property tax appeals. But assembly members often lack the expertise necessary to render the best rulings in property tax valuation cases, said assembly member Pete Sprague, of Soldotna.

The lack of practical experience isn't the only problem, he said.

"The time and attention necessary are huge," Sprague said, adding that just last week a Board of Equalization hearing that began at 9 a.m. one day wasn't wrapped up until 1:15 a.m. the next morning.

"I'm not really sure if the public knows the difference between the BOE and the assembly," he said. "They may not realize we are not the assembly when hearing a tax appeal."

An independent appointed board, he said, would help make the distinction clear.

Citizens seeking reversals of Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission decisions take their arguments before the Board of Adjustment. But the need to maintain strict impartiality requires that assembly members not discuss the issues with their constituents, which can sometimes conflict with their duties as the representatives of their respective assembly districts, Sprague said.

"I feel it is a disservice when I have to say to a member of the public, "I can't talk to you or help you any step of the way until the board hears it," he said.

Appointed boards named by the assembly but made up of experts in the respective fields would serve the public better than the current procedure and relieve assembly members of inherent conflicts, Sprague said. To that end, he has sponsored two ordinances that would create appointed boards of equalization and adjustment.

The new equalization board envisioned in Ordinance 2005-29 would consist of five primary members plus two alternates chosen for their expertise in property appraisals, the real estate market and other related fields, Sprague said in a memo to the assembly.

The new Board of Adjustment proposed in Ordinance 2005-30 would consist of five primary members plus one alternate. It is based, Sprague said, on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough model.

Members of the new boards would be compensated at $100 a session, the same as assembly members currently receive.

Each ordinance appears on Tuesday's assembly agenda for introduction. Public hearings are tentatively scheduled for the Aug. 2 meeting.

As currently written, each ordinance would sunset on Aug. 6, 2006 unless the assembly, by ordinance, altered or extended the termination date.

This is not the first time Sprague has attempted to get assembly agreement to the change. This is his third try since 2000, he said. In both previous attempts, he got some, but not enough assembly support.

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