Assembly seeks advice on animal control and voting

  • Saturday, September 13, 2014 10:34pm
  • News

Two propositions on the Oct. 7 regular election ballot will gauge local opinion on two Kenai Peninsula Borough issues.

Proposition A asks voters who live outside of cities to consider whether the borough should exercise limited animal control powers and if it should charge a property tax to pay for those services. Proposition B asks all borough voters if elections should be held by mail.

While voter approval of either proposition will not lead to implementation, whether the voters approve or disapprove of the proposals will be used as a public recommendation to the borough assembly.

Assembly member Brent Johnson introduced the resolution to ask voters if they would like to see the borough exercise animal control powers after hearing about problems with abused animals from multiple borough residents.

The proposition addresses domestic animal rescue for areas outside of the cities. Borough cities except for Kachemak City and Seldovia provide animal control services.

While the proposition clarifies that any animal control instances that involve criminal law would be handled by law enforcement, The details about how borough animal control services would work aren’t all decided, yet. It will be up to the assembly to determine particulars, if it decides to enact services.

However, Johnson said the proposition only applies in certain cases.

“This mechanism here, on the ballot, is only for animal rescues for abused pets and it doesn’t entail … loose dogs for instance, which is something that maybe people want to look at in time, but right now it’s not part of this ordinance,” Johnson said.

Johnson said, the program would likely work on a by-complaint basis with Alaska State Troopers as the responding agency.

“I don’t anticipate the borough sending people out to somebody’s house and say, ‘Hey you’re misbehaving, not treating your dogs or your pets or your horses or whatever right,’” Johnson said. “That’s a job for the troopers.”

The Domestic Animal Protection League and Alaska’s Extended Life Animal Sanctuary have said the troopers don’t have a mechanism to care for the rescued pets, which is where the borough-hire agency would come into action.

Animals rescued by troopers, would then be housed and cared for by whatever agency or organization the borough hires, Johnson said.

He said it’s possible the borough would consider asking existing city shelters to enter a contractual agreement.

“I have no idea if the cities would be interested in that,” Johnson said. “These are the kind of discussions that will take place — unless, of course, the thing fails.”

According to Alaska statute, troopers who receive animal cruelty complaints would apply for a search warrant. If the court issues a warrant, the trooper could then respond and rescue the pet. After the animal is removed, it need to be inspected by a veterinarian and be placed in protective custody.

Animal cruelty is a class A misdemeanor. If a person has been convicted in two or more separate cases within the previous 10 years of the current charge, it is a class C felony.

Johnson proposed implementing a property tax of 0.02 mills in unincorporated areas of the borough, to fund the services. Properties valued at $150,000 would pay $3 a year for the tax. According to the proposition about $95,000 would be generated annually by the tax.

“One of the key things that I wanted to do is provide some funding mechanism because I didn’t want people to keep thinking they can add things to the general fund that is taking money out of the budget without putting any money in the budget,” Johnson said.

He said his intentions are that the borough will provide animal control services it can for $95,000.

“If there’s ever a desire to raise that, if more money is needed, then I would want to take that back to the voters,” Johnson said.

The idea to hold all borough elections by mail was originally introduced as an ordinance by assembly member Bill Smith that, if the body had passed it, would have allowed for this coming Oct. 7 election to be held by mail.

The assembly decided to postpone Smith’s ordinance and instead pass a resolution to put the issue on the ballot as an advisory vote. Assembly member Dale Bagley said he introduced the ballot proposition because he felt that if the assembly had implemented by-mail voting, it likely would have caught some residents off-guard.

“I have heard from a lot of constituents that aren’t really excited about this and I actually think it’s going to fail by a large margin and I’m kind of hoping (that) ends the debate on this issue,” Bagely said. But he said if it doesn’t fail, he is OK with moving to vote-by-mail elections.

Currently the borough has six precincts that hold elections by mail — Cooper Landing, Moose Pass, Hope, Fox River, Seldovia and Kachemak Bay and Tyonek.

“Basically, the vote-by-mail would be an expansion of the program that we are already using for the rural precincts,” said Johnie Blankenship, borough clerk.

Smith’s main reason for wanting to hold elections by-mail, he previously said, is to increase voter turnout.

During the October 2013 regular borough election the Seldovia and Kachemak Bay precinct had the highest voter turn out at 25.85 percent. Excluding the now defunct Port Lions precinct, which had 0 percent voter turn out last year, Tyonek had the lowest turn out with 5.05 percent. The other by-mail precincts ranged from 17.83 percent to 23.92 percent.

Blankenship said the borough has held vote-by-mail elections in some precincts for more than 15 years and she hasn’t had complaints about the system from anyone in those precincts.

In a by-mail election, voters would receive a voter pamphlet, as they do now, before receiving the by-mail ballots. The clerks office will send a secrecy sleeve, an inner envelope, the ballot and information about how to vote and when the ballot needs to be received all mailed in the outer envelope to the voter. The ballots would be sent to voters a minimum of 15 days before Election Day.

The secrecy sleeve has the voter information from the division of elections. Voters would need to provide an identifier — voter number, social security number or birth date — and sign it in front of a notary or a witness age 18 or older, who must also sign the sleeve.

The inner envelope, which is what voters will send marked ballots in the filled out sleeves back to the clerk in, is pre-addressed and the borough pays for postage. All voter information is covered and will not be seen by postal employees. The ballots have to be postmarked on or before Election Day. Ballots would have until the Tuesday following Election Day to arrive at the clerk’s office to be counted.

The canvas board checks for the identifier, voter signature and witness signature and makes sure identifying information matches. If any one of those parts is missing, the ballot is thrown out by the canvas board. By-mail ballots are not counted until 8 p.m. Election Day.

In-person absentee voting sites will be set up two weeks prior and on Election Day where by-mail ballots can also be deposited. The canvass board counts vote-by-mail ballots before absentee votes.

“If that person then … forgot that they voted by mail, or they’re going to test the system, and they go into an absentee in-person site … (the board) will go to the master register, they will see (that) person’s already voted and they will catch that double vote,” Blankenship said.

If a ballot gets spoiled, Blankenship said the voter would call the clerk’s office, if time allowed, and the office would mail a new one. If it is the day before Election Day, the office could fax a ballot. If it is Election Day, the clerks office would send the voter to an absentee in-person site. An additional benefit, Smith previously said he hoped would result from vote-by-mail elections would be a reduced cost to the borough. However, that is not the case, according to a fiscal note, at least not for a few years.

“I think (vote-by-mail) will substantially assist with getting the voter rolls to where they’re real because we’ll be able to let the state know when we get bad addresses and so … over time they can develop a pretty good cause for inactivating somebody,” Blankenship said. Eliminating bad addresses would cut down on printing and postage costs.

According to the note, mayoral election year costs would increase by an estimated $41,369 and non-mayoral election year costs would increase by $14,979, in vote-by mail elections.

“The whole goal of this is to try to solve a problem of lack of empathy,” Blankenship said. “Basically, people are busy and lives are crazy and they want to be able to have some convenience in the way we do things. And the current system isn’t working because the voter turn out is dismal.”

The Kenai and Soldotna Chambers are holding a luncheon at on Tuesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, where both propositions will be discussed.

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