School board stays out of grocery tax debate

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Wednesday, March 4, 2015 9:42pm
  • News

The Board of Education will not formally support the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly’s ordinance that would allow for year-round taxation of non-prepared food items.

The request was introduced in the form of a resolution, put before the school board during Monday’s meeting. Board members Lynn Hohl and Tim Navarre drafted the laydown document.

The resolution was constructed as a possible means of convincing the borough assembly to fund education to the cap during this year, Navarre said. The resolution was devised following a school board work session Monday, where Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones reported on the fiscal year 2016 budget, he said.

Jones reported the maximum allowable contribution the borough can make this year is more than $4 million more than what the district is budgeting. The school district is currently predicting the 2016 deficit at $8.8 million, according to the fiscal year budget scenarios and information document.

The sales tax exemption has resulted in a loss of nearly $16.7 million in revenues from Jan. 9, 2009 through fiscal year 2014, according to the resolution. The sales tax would have generated $3.3 million for the borough during the 2014 fiscal year, according to the resolution.

Nikiski resident James Price, who has been fighting the sales tax for more than half a decade, said the ordinance “is the worst possible way to increase funding.” He asked the school board not to endorse grocery sales tax as a form of generating revenue.

Assembly member Blaine Gilman said the $3 million the sales tax would raise would make it easier for the assembly to fund the school district to the cap.

“The school district is not the only pressure on the borough this year with the (low) price of oil,” Gilman said.

Hohl said she considers a sales tax on grocery items regressive.

“Normally I wouldn’t support a tax like this,” Hohl said. “I feel desperate about finding school funding.”

School board member Dan Castimore said his concern is that boosting the borough’s revenues does not guarantee an increase in funding for the school district. It could potentially alienate members of the public, who chose to vote down the option for the borough to collect the sales tax in 2008, he said.

“It is not our place to support an ordinance that is in direct disagreement with voters,” Castimore said.

School board president Joe Arness said supporting the ordinance would do more harm than good to public perception.

School board member Liz Downing agreed with Hohl that funding education should be the school board’s top priority.

“We have to find a way to fund education or it will kill us,” Downing said.

 

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com.

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