Voters may get say in costly projects

Spending limit, sales tax cap measures going to polls

Posted: Friday, August 12, 2005

Sufficient petition signatures have been gathered and verified to send a proposition aimed at limiting the borough’s ability to spend money on capital projects without a public vote to the fall ballot.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Clerk’s office earlier this month notified officials with the initiative sponsors, the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers (ACT), that the required 1,530 voter signatures had been verified. Borough Clerk Sherry Biggs said Tuesday that the initiative had been officially certified and would appear as Ballot Proposition 4 on the Oct. 4 municipal ballot.

The final language of the proposition and voter information packet must still be approved by the assembly, which will address that issue at its Tuesday meeting, Biggs said.

If approved by voters, the proposition would lower the amount the assembly could spend on a capital project without a public vote from $1.5 million to $1 million. Projects exceeding the $1 million cap would require the approval of 60 percent of voters.

“When people were told what this initiative would do, most were happy to sign. They thought it made perfect sense for taxpayers to have more say about what gets built since we are responsible for paying the bills,” Fred Sturman, an initiative alternate sponsor, said in a press release.

A similar and successful initiative drive last year in the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area prevented expenditure of around $1 million on a project to upgrade the old Nikiski Elementary School as a community center, ACT noted. Voters lowered the service area’s capital spending limit to $500,000. The service area board eventually found a way to utilize the rooms they needed for around $50,000.

“That’s a big savings for a small service area. Just imagine what it could be at the borough level,” Sturman said.

ACT launched the petition drive in response to an assembly decision to build a multimillion-dollar facility in Soldotna to house Central Emergency Services administration, 911 dispatchers and the borough’s emergency operation manager’s offices. ACT had tried to encourage the use of existing buildings, but could not convince the assembly.

Ruby Kime of Ninilchik, the initiative’s prime sponsor, said the borough had been able “to mask” the true cost of projects by using grant money.

“The nice thing about the initiative petition is that it re-engages the public in the decision-making process,” she said.

Earlier this year, assembly President Gary Superman warned passage of the cap could be negative to development in the borough.

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

Another ACT initiative that will appear as a proposition on the fall ballot, Proposition 5, would set the maximum borough sales tax rate at 2 percent and require 60 percent voter approval of any increase.

The assembly recently voted to push the sales tax to 3 percent effective in October.

Borough Mayor Dale Bagley earlier this summer warned that capping the sales tax at 2 percent, or repealing the increase, could cost the borough general fund as much as $6 million, forcing the fund balance down from $14 million to a precariously low $8 million.

“If that happened, next year we would have to look at increasing the (property tax) mill rate from 1.5 to 1.75 mills, putting raising the money we need on the backs of property owners,” Bagley said in June.

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