Nikiski borough candidates take different sides

Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2004

Nikiski voters have a choice between two philosophies in this year's race for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly District 3 seat.

Incumbent Gary Superman, who served a term from 1989 to 1992 and returned to the assembly in 2001, says he sees his community as ripe for prudent development and that such progress can be accomplished "at a responsible tax level."

He supports Proposition 2, a measure that would create a law enforcement service area mirroring the boundaries of the existing Nikiski Fire Service Area and establish a board of directors who would then determine the scope of law enforcement services to be provided.

Superman wrote the ordinance placing the issue before the voters in response to a public consensus for some kind of police presence after the area was hit with string of burglaries earlier this year.

His opponent, James Price, has made a name for himself in recent years as chair of Peninsula Citizens Against Private Prisons and as chair of Peninsula Citizens Against Grocer Tax. In 2002, he ran unsuccessfully as a Republican Moderate for the House seat held by Rep. Mike Chenault.

Price said Nikiski residents and property owners would face higher taxes if the law enforcement proposition passes, and he opposes it. He argues that Nikiski's tax base is highly dependent on oil-industry properties, and that that industry is in decline.

The cost of maintaining new facilities and programs would shift to residential property owners as that decline continues, he said.

Price supports two other ballot measures affecting the Nikiski area. Proposition 3 and Proposition 4 arose out of debate over the scope and power of the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area and its move to acquire the vacant Nikiski Elementary School for use as a new community hall.

Proposition 3 would prohibit the service area from committing funds for a community hall or prepared food facility. Proposition 4 would force a vote by Nikiski residents anytime the recreation service area wanted to initiate a project costing more than $500,000. Currently, the level is $1.5 million.

Price supports and is an advocate of both those limiting propositions, arguing that until the local economy improves, it would be "irresponsible to promote additional government growth and spending."

Superman opposes the propositions. Taking over the school building would meet the community's needs, he argues, and would save money because the service area would have a ready-made facility and not have to build a new one.

He also says that with today's project costs, the $500,000 limit envisioned in Proposition 4 would force elections on almost any substantial project.

Superman says he doesn't agree that Nikiski property taxes would ever rise to unacceptable levels. But improving some services could help entice more industry to the area and boost the local economy. He said he thinks the Nikiski area could become "one of the best communities in the borough."

The two candidates also differ over Proposition 1, a measure that would give the assembly the power to increase the property tax exemption level on a primary residence from $10,000 to $20,000.

Superman supports the measure, saying that while it might not put a lot of money in any individual property owner's pocket, it would help counterbalance increasing property assessments.

Price argues that at a time when the borough is deficit spending, it is irresponsible to offer this kind of tax relief.

The borough has estimated the increased exemption level would cost the borough $577,000 and the various service areas would face additional revenue losses.

Price strongly opposes any further service area expansions, new taxes or spending on capital projects without public votes of approval.

Superman says that as the state continues to shift costs to local governments, the challenge will be to improve services without placing additional burdens on local taxpayers.

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