The Kenai Peninsula Borough ballot proposition on raising revenue drew comments that nearly turned a preelection public forum into a debate Thursday night.
Proposition 2, a referendum on whether to repeal borough Ordinance 2005-09, pitted Kenai attorney Blaine Gilman, representing Citizens for a Positive Future, against Vicki Pate, president of Alliance for Concerned Taxpayers, during a League of Women Voters forum.
Pate said the referendum “is not about schools or property tax or anything else. It’s a referendum that asks, ‘Do you want this law to stay or to be thrown out?’”
Gilman said Proposition 2 “limits the ability of the borough assembly to adequately fund borough expenses.”
Ordinance 2005-09, which was enacted in June 2005, increases sales tax in the borough to 3 percent; calculates recreational package sales tax on a per-person, per-day basis; and moves a portion of the Land Trust Fund balance to the borough general fund.
ACT petitioned the borough to repeal the ordinance by way of Proposition 2.
A “yes” vote means the borough may not proceed with the revenue enhancement measures.
A “no” vote means the borough may implement any or all of the provisions of the ordinance. Borough administration has recently said it plans to keep the sales tax at 2 percent even if Prop 2 fails.
Saying the borough “broke the law” by not asking borough voters to ratify the 1 percent sales tax increase in 2005, Pate said, “The assembly needs to stop hiding behind the skirts of the borough attorney and ask themselves what is right.”
“Miss Pate has indicated that increasing the sales tax by 1 percent in 2005 was illegal,” said Gilman. “That’s not true.
“In 1964, voters gave the authority to the borough to go up to 3 percent,” he said.
When asked by League of Women Voters President and forum moderator Lois Pillifant if they felt a 3 percent sales tax would result in a lowering of property taxes, Gilman said he is not sure.
“I don’t even know if a 3 percent sales tax will be necessary the next budget cycle,” Gilman said, adding whether or not municipal revenue sharing is reinstituted and whether borough schools are funded fairly by the state would need to be factored in.
Pate said, “The (Matanuska-Susitna) Borough has put in a maximum revenue cap and a cap on how much the borough can spend.
“This is what ACT is trying to get in in this borough. Then, if property tax goes up, sales tax has to decrease,” she said.
Pate said, “This referendum is about removing a bad ordinance.”
Gilman said, “Four past borough mayors Mike Navarre, Stan Thompson, George Navarre and Dale Bagley all believe (Proposition 2) is bad public policy and must be soundly defeated.”
In addition to arguments from both sides of the referendum issue, the League of Women Voters forum included presentations by candidates seeking seats on the Kenai Peninsula School District Board of Education and on the borough assembly.
Marilyn Pawluk, who is competing for school board seat District 5 Sterling and Funny River with Marty Anderson, said she is not running against Anderson so much as she is running “to fill the gap of the business perspective” on the board.
Pawluk said she has approximately 20 years of oil industry experience where she worked as a business analyst.
Anderson, the incumbent, was working on the North Slope at the time of the forum.
Bill Hatch, who is running unopposed for the District 2 Kenai seat, said he participated in the forum to learn what questions voters have.
When asked if the school district should attempt to attract home-school students back into regular, public schools, Hatch said, “I believe in choice.
“If we’re doing a good job, kids will stay in our schools. Let’s do a good job for our kids,” said Hatch, a retired teacher.
Four candidates for borough assembly seats participated in the public forum including two who are running unopposed Milli Martin, South Peninsula, and Ron Long, East Peninsula and Kelly Wolf and Gary Knopp, who are vying against each other for the Kalifornsky Beach district seat.
When asked what qualifies the candidates for the positions they seek, Long said he has no unique skills, but has the willingness to work for all Kenai Peninsula Borough residents.
Wolf, who served one term in the state House of Representatives, said he has “a bachelor’s degree from the university of hard knocks,” and first became interested in politics when he began a not-for-profit business 10 years ago.
Knopp, who said he acquired budgeting experience while working for Arco Alaska, answered by saying, “I’m not a politician. I’m here applying for a job.”
District 9 incumbent Martin said she is a parent first, and has a long history of public involvement. She was a school board member from 1982 to 1985 and from 1986 to 1989, served on the Kachemak Bay Advisory Planning Commission from 1996 to 2000, and has been a member of the assembly since 2000.
The candidates were asked how they planned to deal with the recent increases in the state retirement system rates if elected.
“When I was in the Legislature, we were dealing with that bomb,” said Wolf. “We’re going to have to fall back on the state and have the Legislature step in ... I don’t think they will.”
Knopp said, “I don’t know the solution to that problem.”
Martin said the retirement system shortfall is not an error made by the borough. “It’s mismanagement by the state,” she said.
Long said the $1,106 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend the state is paying to each Alaskan almost equals the $6.9 billion unfunded liability amount of the retirement system.
“The retirement liability does not have to be funded at 100 percent,” Long said. “Most states fund it at 70 percent and do just fine.
“The state could have paid off the liability by giving each person a $400 (PFD) check,” he said.
Although Wolf was the only candidate to favor Proposition 2, he said, “A tax on tourists (has not) even been touched yet. Hotel guests are only taxed on one invoice.”
A vote against Proposition 2 would allow taxing recreational package sales on a per-person, per-day basis.
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