KENAI (AP) -- Volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians in the unincorporated parts of the Kenai Peninsula Borough are now eligible for a partial exemption on their borough property taxes.
The tax break was enacted Tuesday by the borough assembly in a 7-2 vote.
The action grants the property tax exemption on $10,000 of assessed value. The law will lower the taxes of a qualifying volunteer by $65 a year.
To qualify for the borough exemption, a volunteer must be active in a state-recognized first-responder service, registered fire department or a certified ambulance service located in the borough and be certified as a firefighter or EMT by the state.
Other rules apply, such as if more than two members of one household are volunteers, no more than two exemptions will be allowed for the property. The two exemptions would not affect the borough's residential property exemption on $10,000 worth of assessed value.
While the exemption idea enjoyed majority support on the assembly, some members said it gave them pause.
Paul Fischer of the Central District suggested service areas consider paying volunteers stipends instead. He also noted that the ordinance makes no provision for extending the tax benefit to volunteers who rent, rather than own their homes.
Noting a serious shortage of volunteers across the state, the Alaska Legislature passed Senate Bill 4 this year authorizing municipalities to provide such exemptions for qualified volunteers beginning Jan. 1 as a kind of incentive. A similar measure already has been passed by the city of Homer, and Seward has indicated interest, according to Shane Horan, director of assessing.
Fischer said that just because the Legislature adopts such provisions doesn't mean the borough must enact them.
''I agree there is a shortage of volunteers,'' he said. ''There's also a shortage of nurses, yet we have no benefits for nurses to attract more nurses here.''
Fischer eventually voted for the measure.
Assembly member Betty Glick of Kenai voted against it, saying the assembly must be cautious about granting exemptions.
Assembly member Pete Sprague of Soldotna said he had difficulty with the ordinance as well. He said he wants to see the state step up and provide financial help rather than hand it off to the municipalities.
Assembly member Chris Moss of Homer said no one volunteers or is likely to for a few dollars a year in tax breaks. Thus, the ordinance isn't about incentives so much as it is a pat on the back for a job well done.
''This is not a money thing,'' he said. ''This is a validation of the work they do.''
Only Glick and Sprague voted against the measure.
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