Homer candidates split on bed tax

Posted: Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Editor's note: Candidate columns and answers to a Clarion questionnaire can be found on pages A-4 and A-5 in today's paper. Wednesday's election coverage will focus on Proposition 4.

The three candidates competing for the District 8 (Homer) seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, Heidi Fielding, Deb Germano and Bill Smith, say they are concerned Proposition 5, which would cap sales tax at 2 percent and require approval from 60 percent of voters in the future if the borough wants to increase that rate, would lead to fewer basic services.

They were split, however, on another contentious ballot proposition that aims to give the assembly the authority to institute a "transient accommodations tax," commonly called a bed tax, on the lodging industry.

Fielding, Germano and Smith are seeking the seat now held by Chris Moss, who decided not to seek re-election. The term is for three years.

Fielding said she is a mother and employee of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and is involved with Homer High School football team's booster club.

A Homer resident for almost four years, Fielding has not run for local office before. She said she hopes to ensure the borough government does not tamper with funding for education.

Fielding said schools should provide academics, arts and athletics for all students.

She also said growth in the community is inevitable. That does not mean, however, that the city should lose its beauty.

"There's still room for growth. On the other hand, we need to be cautious of taking care of the environment," Fielding said.

She opposes a bed tax for the borough and also opposes Proposition 4. She originally supported 4, which seeks to require 60 percent voter approval before the borough spends more than $1 million on any capital project, but she later changed her mind.

"It really does stifle the ability of the assembly to function properly," she said.

Germano, who served on the school board for 10 years, said if voters pass Proposition 5, the borough will have trouble running properly.

"The schools will be directly impacted," Germano said.

The borough has supported its schools as much as allowed under state law, she said.

"With all the other inequities we have with state funding for our borough schools, I'm just so thankful the borough has stepped up to the plate and continued to fund us to the cap," Germano said.

That might not continue without a higher sales tax, she said.

The assembly also should take a stronger look at what it is spending its money on, she said. Capital projects should not become a priority only because state or federal governments offer matching funding for them, she said.

Germano said she has no personal problem with implementing a bed tax, although she understands the concern coming from the lodging industry. If a bed tax passes, she said the borough needs to look more closely at how it will spend the extra money.

"I'm not sure really what is the right thing to do about it," Germano said about the borough's bed tax proposition.

Smith said he has been involved in local and boroughwide planning issues for years.

"I like working locally because you can get things done," said Smith, a former member of the borough and Homer planning commissions.

As the city of Homer grows, it also needs to take more control of its subdivision process, Smith said. The borough government often has ignored the city's recommendations regarding subdivision applications, and he wants to give cities more authority over applications to subdivide land, he said.

"It may cost the city a little bit more," Smith said.

The costs, however, would be modest, as the city already does much of the work on subdivision applications, he said.

Smith said, if elected, he would promote cooperation between the city and borough. He also would encourage the development of the city's port facilities.

"It will become even more important to have our act together if the Pebble Mine goes into development," he said.

The borough also should try to institute a mineral severance tax, he said.

Smith opposes propositions 4 and 5 and warned that if voters passed a cap on the sales tax, the assembly would have to compensate with other taxes and cuts to services.

"There are very few reasonable ways to cut millions from the borough budget without impacting schools," he said.

The top vote-getter will win the seat, according to the Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk's office. The race does not require any candidate to receive a majority of the vote, as the race for borough mayor does.

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