Prop 4 aims to limit spending

Measure would force a vote on projects exceeding $1 million

Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Editor's note: Thursday's election coverage will focus on Proposition 5.

Current policy limits the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly from appropriating more than $1.5 million to a capital project without seeking public approval at the polls.

An initiative launched earlier this year by the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers, or ACT, has succeeded in putting a proposition on the fall ballot that could lower that cap.

Proposing 4 asks voters to decide on Initiative Ordinance 2005-01 which, if successful, would reduce to cost ceiling from $1.5 million to $1 million and require approval by no less than 60 percent of voters residing in an affected area before the assembly could appropriate beyond that limit. The proposition would make the limit retroactive to April 15, 2005.

In addition, the limit would include not only borough funds, but even federal and state grants. Insurance proceeds would be exempt from the limitation.

A "yes" vote would approve the new and lower cap and voter approval requirement. A "no" vote would retain the current $1.5 million cap before an election was required.

"When people were told what this initiative would do, most were happy to sign," said the initiative's alternate sponsor, Fred Sturman, in an ACT press release. "They thought it made perfect sense for taxpayers to have more say about what gets built since we are responsible for paying the bills. Even skeptics would sign once they heard about the results of a similar initiative in Nikiski last year where taxpayers saved about $1 million in one project alone."

The assembly's recent decision to build a multimillion-dollar facility in Soldotna to house Central Emergency Services administrative offices, 911 dispatchers and the borough's emergency operations manager, rather than utilize existing office space or the already built emergency command center on the second floor of the PRISM building in Kenai prompted ACT members to respond.

Members argued that the assembly appropriated funding for the new project, though it might have to boost taxes later to pay operational costs. The borough's practice of using grant money for large projects masks the true cost of those projects, ACT said.

"The nice thing about an initiative petition is that it re-engages the public in the decision-making process. It gives voters a stake in the outcome," said Ruby Kime, the initiative's prime sponsor, in a recent press release.

In an interview Aug. 31, borough Mayor Dale Bagley noted that the only reason there is a cap on appropriations at all is because the assembly imposes one on itself.

Bagley said that when he was on the assembly in the 1990s before being elected mayor, the limit had been $1 million. The fire that destroyed a portion of the school in Ninilchik led then assembly President Tim Navarre to push for the higher $1.5 million limit, Bagley said, a move that succeeded and resulted in the current cap.

Lowering it could be problematic, the mayor said.

"With construction costs what they are in this day and age, that (a successful Proposition 4) could mean a lot of questions on the ballot every year," he said, "and a lot of projects held up waiting for special elections — which cost a lot of money — or annual elections to ask the voters."

He said he believes Proposition 4 could fail.

"I hear from a lot of people that say we elect assembly members to make decisions," he said.

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