Other than some saber rattling between two Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly candidates over term limits, a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Tuesday proceeded with calm decorum just one week before the municipal election.
Voters in assembly District 4 Soldotna will be asked to choose between incumbent Pete Sprague and challenger Ed Oberts. In District 7 Central, newcomer Bill Holt is seeking to unseat long-time incumbent Paul Fischer.
Oberts, who described himself as a real estate salesman, fired the first shot against Sprague saying, "It was my opponent who led the charge to overturn term limits after the voters voted it in."
Sprague acknowledged participating in borough assembly action 15 years ago to repeal term limits for assembly members, approved through a ballot initiative.
"In retrospect, if I had it to do over again, I would have asked the assembly to put it back on the ballot for the voters to decide again," Sprague said, adding that during his six years as assistant to former borough mayor Dale Bagley, Oberts did nothing to change the term limits situation.
During his closing remarks, Sprague eased the tension between the two saying the campaign "is not about politics, it's about public service."
He said, having worked as a mailman in the community for 25 years, he enjoys serving the public.
Oberts said if elected, "I would do everything to serve the wishes of the voter."
When asked whether he would support term limits, first-time candidate Holt, a commercial fisherman, said, "No."
He said he could understand why some would support term limits with legislative corruption being investigated currently, but said "Some people need two terms to reach their stride."
Fischer said simply, "The proposition we have now is illegal. We can't go back five, six years. I'm against it."
All four candidates said taxes top the list of important issues facing the borough, though some favored property tax relief while some said high sales taxes do more harm to borough residents.
Sprague said the sales tax increase, approved by the assembly, will raise $4.5 million, bringing relief to borough property owners.
Oberts said, "Sales tax is the most important.
"If elected, I will introduce an ordinance to repeal the sales tax," he said, adding that 10 percent of the property tax burden falls to the oil and gas companies, and a large portion is placed on people other than borough residents.
Fischer said he favors addressing property taxes through property assessments, suggesting assessment increases be limited to 2 percent per year.
While Holt said he agrees that property and sales taxes are important, he feels the issues of continued support for the school district in its struggle to attain funding parity and the growing drug abuse problem in the school district are also of great importance.
Addressing Proposition 1, the Senior Citizen Property Tax Exemption, 71-year-old Fischer said, "I'm old, so you know where I'm coming from. You're going to have to ask yourself, 'What's fair?'" he said.
Holt said, "A cap on the senior exemption is the right thing to do now," but added that the borough needs funding to pay for its many projects.
Oberts said he would have preferred retaining some form of general exemption for all, then assessing seniors on services such as fire protection and hospital services they use.
Sprague said, as an assemblyman, he brought forward the language seeking to cap the senior exemption at $300,000.
"This does spread the burden around quite a bit," he said.
Sprague got the biggest laugh of the afternoon from the Soldotna business leaders when responding to the question, "How do you differ from your fellow candidate?"
"I'm shorter and better looking," he said, adding how he enjoys serving the public.
Holt said, as the newest candidate, he brings "new ears, a new voice, new energy to the process."
Fischer, who has been a state senator for 10 years and borough assemblyman for 19, said he runs for office to address critical issues, and added, this would be the last time he seeks reelection.
Oberts, who said he grew up on his father's homestead in the Sterling area and now lives in Soldotna, said he "can do a good job" representing all the voters in the district.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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