School board discusses support for sales tax increase, no formal backing

At their Monday meeting, school board members expressed support for an initiative to bring a sales tax increase to the borough, but no formal backing for the campaign has been given by the district.

A citizen group is gathering signatures this summer to place a question on the October ballot asking voters whether the borough should raise the general sales tax from 3 percent to 3.5 percent. The change, which would add another 50 cents for every $100 spent, would generate an estimated $5 million annually and would be dedicated to fund education, as all sales taxes are in the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

At Monday’s Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education’s work session, superintendent Sean Dusek told the board he was asked to sign the petition.

“We all know that as a public employee, and in this position, that will probably be pointed out and it could become political,” Dusek told the board. “It just means that if I were to sign that, and I wouldn’t if most of you objected to that… I think it’s worth a discussion. Because I don’t want to step out there politically if you guys are adamantly opposed to this going on the ballot.”

The school board has not created any formal supporting resolution for the initiative. Dusek said if the sales tax increase goes to the ballot, then it will be important for the board to come together as a whole.

The citizen group picked up the initiative after the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly at its June 5 meeting shot down an ordinance that would have asked voters for a sales tax increase.

Soldotna resident Linda Hutchings filed the petition and said she is working with 10 sponsors to gather 2,200 qualified voter signatures before the July 24 deadline. The language and intent are similar to the ordinance the assembly denied, which was sponsored by assembly members Kelly Cooper and Hal Smalley. During the assembly debate over the ordinance, a variety of people offered support for it, many citing support for increased education funding as a reason.

The Board of Education members expressed general support for the initiative as well as the initiative process. Debbie Cary, a school board member from Ninilchik, said she supports the initiative and is helping the group gather signatures.

“I personally have books for people to sign,” she said.

“We have as a board decided we would support revenue measures at the borough level, so I think as a board we need to be in support of whether it makes it through the initiative process or through assembly action, any revenue measures the borough brings forward,” board member Zen Kelly said.

Board member Lynn Hohl and others expressed the need for a formal declaration of support for the initiative.

“I wish we had a resolution in support, so we could have it written out why we support this,” Hohl said.

David Brighton, president of Kenai Peninsula Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers, said he didn’t know if the association had a plan to formally support the initiative, though he said the district could desperately use more money.

The initiative sponsors will have to submit the signatures to the borough clerk’s office for validation by the deadline. If enough signatures are validated as peninsula residents and qualified voters, the question will go to the ballot. If borough residents vote to pass it, the increase would take effect in January 2019.

Reach Victoria Petersen at vpetersen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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