Borough looking for a few good commissioners

Citizens needed for several boards

Posted: Thursday, November 10, 2005

Private citizens are being asked to apply for positions on two Kenai Peninsula Borough boards that act to settle disputes arising from property tax assessments and decisions by the Planning Commission.

The quasi-judicial functions of the Board of Equalization (regarding property taxes) and Board of Adjustment (regarding commission decisions) have been duties performed by members of the borough assembly. In August, however, the assembly changed that, passing ordinances providing for appointed boards.

Late last week, the borough clerk's office began seeking applications from residents for the board positions. The deadline for applications is Dec. 20.

The new Board of Equalization will consist of five members and two alternates. The borough is seeking people with expertise in real and personal property appraisal, the local real estate market, the personal property market, and related fields.

Members would be appointed by the assembly and serve three-year terms, except that terms of the initial board would be staggered in length to provide for rotating term expiration dates.

The duties of the board remain the same. That is, it would hear appeals from property owners alleging errors by the assessors' office in valuing their real or personal properties for taxing purposes, or in the case of property subject to a flat tax, issues regarding alleged errors in ownership or property classification.

The new Board of Adjustment will consist of five members, plus one alternate. At least two members are expected to have previous experience in planning of platting, and preference will be given to applicants having quasi-judicial experience, according to the borough's application document.

The assembly would ap-point the members to staggered terms to provide for rotating term expirations, after which terms would be for three years. Again, the change in personnel from assembly members to private citizens does not change the function of the board, which is to hear appeals from residents regarding the denial, modification, approval or revocation of various permits.

As of Monday, the clerk's office reported that no applications for either board had been picked up.

The reasons behind creating appointed boards rather than continuing them as assembly duties were varied, but essentially addressed issues regarding the lack of time and expertise on the part of elected officials.

In Ordinance 2005-29, the assembly noted that serving on the equalization board required "a certain amount of expertise in property valuation issues" and "increasing amounts of time and attention from board members."

In proposing the change, assembly member Pete Spra-gue of Soldotna told his colleagues an appointed board with expertise in property appraisals "would give appellants the opportunity to present their appeals to a body with the background and experience to understand and make sound findings on the issues."

With regards to the adjustment board, Ordinance 2005-30 noted the quasi-judicial nature of matters coming before the board required members not only to be impartial, but also to avoid ex parte contact with anyone involved from the time the matter was first presented to the borough administration until it reached the board of adjustment. Often, that would be months.

Sprague said the prohibition on ex parte communication created a conflict between an assembly member's responsibility to remain impartial with regards to the issues on appeal and performing his or her duty as the elected representative of borough constituents. Ordinance 2005-30 relieved the assembly of that potential conflict by putting the quasi-judicial decisions in other hands. The new adjustment board is based on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough model.

The two ordinances creating the appointed boards were not passed unanimously. Ordinance 2005-29 creating the new equalization board was passed by a 7-2 vote, while Ordinance 2005-30 launching the new board of adjustment narrowly won approval by a 5-4 vote.

However, both ordinances, which take effect Jan. 1, include sunset clauses that automatically terminate the appointed boards on Dec. 31, 2006, unless the assembly passes another ordinance altering or extending the termination date.

Thus, the assembly will have a year in which to evaluate the effectiveness of the two appointed boards.



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