Roads ordinance clears assembly; borough mayor's desk is next stop

Posted: Thursday, September 05, 2002

A controversial ordinance that boosts construction standards for new subdivision roads has once again cleared the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

Ordinance 2001-47, which imposes stricter requirements on developers, was first passed by a slim 5-4 margin in early August after months of meetings, hearings and debate. It was brought back for reconsideration Aug. 20, but further action was postponed until Tuesday, when language was added clarifying when the new standards would apply and to which subdivisions.

Tuesday, members voted as they had in Aug. 6. Now the question is whether the new standards will survive a trip to the mayor's desk.

Mayor Dale Bagley was noncommittal Tuesday night when asked if he intended to veto the measure.

"I have not made up my mind," he said.

The mayor has until the Sept. 17 meeting in Homer to submit a veto message. Bagley would only say there are good arguments on both sides and that he is weighing the issues.

The road ordinance requires developers to build subdivision roads to borough maintenance standards before a final plat on a subdivision can be approved by the borough. There are exemptions, mostly having to do with distance from state- or borough-maintained roads.

Essentially, though, the aim of the new roads law is to curtail construction of substandard roads that often end up back before the assembly as requests from desperate subdivision residents seeking money to rebuild them.

Tightening the requirements for new subdivision roads was controversial from the start.

First introduced in December, the measure was postponed several times to allow for numerous public hearings and work sessions as borough officials tried to hammer out compromise language.

As an assembly vote approached, however, major divisions were apparent. The borough Road Service Area Board fully supported the new standards, while the borough Planning Commission did not.

Opposing perceptions of fairness split the assembly as close to 50-50 as possible. The supporters said it serves no one's purpose in the long run to allow bad roads to be built that end up having to be rebuilt at taxpayer expense. The borough is maturing, and it is time to stop the construction of substandard roads, they argued.

Opponents argued that the stiffer standards would drive up the cost of development, especially for small-time developers lacking the wherewithal to finance road construction up front, and that the new standards would drive up the price of lots, perhaps cutting lower-income buyers out of the market.

Under the law, developers of subdivisions abutting a state- or borough-maintained road must build interior subdivision roads to borough standards no matter the size of the subdivision. Other rules apply to new subdivisions not directly abutting maintained roads. For subdivisions within 330 feet, or an eighth of mile, from a maintained road and which have at least five lots, developers will be required to build borough-standard interior roads and build the approach road to standards as well.

Roads well away from maintained roads, such as developments in the Caribou Hills, would be exempt from the new law.

Assembly member Chris Moss of Homer, a supporter of the new standards, said he thought Bagley would eventually veto the measure. He also said he doubted any assembly member would change his or her mind and that the body would be unable to sustain an override.

Voting for the new, tougher standards were assembly members Tim Navarre of Kenai North, Ron Long of Seward, the measure's prime sponsor, Milli Martin of Homer, Pete Sprague of Soldotna and Moss of Homer. Opposing the ordinance were Grace Merkes of Sterling, Paul Fischer of Tustumena, Betty Glick of Kenai South and Gary Superman of Nikiski.

The assembly also passed Ordinance 2002-30, which provides a tax exemption for the increase in assessed value of property resulting from the harvest of beetle-infested timber. The measure is seen as a way to encourage clearing of dead, dying or at-risk timber that could be fuel for forest fires.

Because clearing of timber and construction necessary to do that job -- such as roads and staging buildings -- are considered improvements under the tax code, property owners faced a dilemma. Cutting their trees to relieve the fire hazard would increase their taxes.

The new law exempts the increased value from taxation during the year or years that timber harvest operations are under way.

The law also provides that Native land governed by the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act would not be taxed by the borough when timber is cleared for fire safety. ANCSA provides that when raw land is cleared, it automatically loses its tax-free status under federal law. The borough ordinance essentially reinstates the exemptions while timber harvest aimed solely at reducing the fire hazard is under way. Under ANCSA, once harvest is completed, Native land reverts to its exempted status, unless further development takes place.

In a move related to the spruce bark beetle hazard, the assembly passed an ordinance distributing $340,000 to fire departments, service areas and other entities. The money comes from a total of $380,000 in interest money earned from about $12 million in federal beetle mitigation funds.

Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area received $50,000. The Hope Fire Department got $25,000. Other recipients included the Moose Pass Fire Department, $75,000; Cooper Landing Fire Department, $75,000; Lowell Point Fire Department, $50,000; and Seldovia Fire Department, $25,000. Money going to the various fire services will cover equipment purchases and projects related to fighting wildland fires.

The ordinance also appropriated $25,000 to the Sterling Senior Citizens Center and $15,000 to the Anchor Point Senior Citizens Center to pay for emergency generators.

Both centers are designated as emergency shelters and have been used for staging purposes during fire-fighting operations.

In other business, the assembly:

Accepted and appropriated a $45,000 grant from the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development for promotion of the borough's bid for the 2006 Arctic Winter Games.

Unanimously passed Ordinance 20002-33 prohibiting assembly members from accepting employment with the borough within one year of leaving office. However, the law does not prevent an assembly member from running for borough mayor and accepting that job if elected within one year of being on the assembly.

Unanimously adopted Ordinance 2002-34 creating a sales tax exemption for rents on housing paid by senior citizens, disabled veterans and by surviving widows and widowers of qualified seniors and disabled veterans.

Seniors must be 65 years or older and the property in question must be the primary residence. The measure was seen as extending an exemption already enjoyed by senior property owners to seniors who rent their homes.

Adopted Ordinance 2002-31 updating borough code provisions regarding the Kenai Peninsula Borough Road Service Area.

The service area is the largest in the borough and provides road maintenance, improvement and construction services to most areas of the borough outside cities. Its powers and duties have increased since it was created in 1991 and the road service area code has not been revised since then.

Introduced Ordinance 2002-38, which would grant a partial property tax exemption to certain volunteers who provide fire-fighting or emergency medical services to the borough. The measure is seen as an incentive for recruiting new volunteers.

According to sponsors Navarre and Bagley, recruitment and retention of emergency services volunteers is recognized as being the largest problem facing volunteer services in the state of Alaska and on the peninsula. The measure would exempt $10,000 worth of assessed value from taxation on real property owned and occupied as a permanent abode by the volunteer.

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