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Assembly shows 'a little bit of heart': Body allows senior to file form months after deadline

Posted: Friday, September 24, 2010

Government is often run with a cold and objective view, "but every once in a while it's important to show a little bit of heart."

That's what Mako Haggerty, South Peninsula's representative, said at the Sept. 21 Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting when discussion turned to an elderly woman not filling out a form on time.

With Haggerty's words in mind, the assembly opted to cut Jean Holben some slack and accept her senior citizen property tax exemption form months after it was supposed to be turned in.

Tuesday's decision was one that asked the body to weigh the rules as they are written versus the people they influence.

The borough grants property tax exemptions up to $300,000 to homes with residents over the age of 65. Citizens who qualify for the exemptions must file a written application with the borough assessor by Feb. 15. Late applications can be accepted until March 31.

The application only needs to be filled out once, not yearly.

Still, the assembly has had perennial problems with people missing the deadline.

In 2008, the borough received 39 late-filed applications and had to decide if being in Mexico and not opening the mail were acceptable excuses for missing the deadline. Both excuses, the assembly decided, were valid.

But by March 2009 the assembly had enough and unanimously enacted an ordinance, introduced by Mayor Dave Carey, making it more difficult to receive the tax exemption after the filing deadline. Processing late applications was costing time and money, the ordinance said.

The ordinance changed the code so that late applications could still be permitted, but only in the event that the applicant missed the deadline due to "a serious condition or extraordinary event."

The decision on Holben's form put the March 2009 ordinance to the test. Those against allowing Holben to file late worry it will undermine the 2009 ordinance. But the majority of the assembly isn't worried about setting any dangerous precedent with Holben, the body's decision proved.

"The right thing to do is to allow this exemption," Sue McClure, of East Peninsula, said. "There's talk that it will open the flood gates for more people asking for these exemptions, but I haven't heard any whisperings of that."

McClure co-sponsored the Holben ordinance with Carey.

Holben said she did not listen to Tuesday's meeting, which was held in Homer but could be heard on public radio. But she was happy to learn the assembly accepted her form.

"That's great. I don't know what I would have done," Holben said. "It helps me out on my house payment, so I am very pleased."

Holben said she missed the deadline because she lost track of her financial paperwork while dealing with a back injury.

Assembly President Pete Sprague was the only assembly member to vote against the ordinance, however, Gary Knopp, who was absent on Tuesday, voted against introduction of the ordinance a month ago.

Sprague said he does not think Holben's excuse for missing the deadline qualifies as extenuating circumstances because Holben had the form delivered to her, and she simply didn't respond to it. The ordinance specifies that failure to read mail does not justify an exemption.

"That's the problem I have here because that appears to me to be exactly the issue here," Sprague said. "I would support this if the code was changed, but until then I can't support it."

Holben's Cooper Landing property was valued at $364,300 in 2010, according to borough records, meaning all but $64,300 of her property could be tax exempt.

Andrew Waite can be reached at andrew.waite@peninsulaclarion.com.



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