Use of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s land trust fund will be debated again at Tuesday’s assembly meeting. Mayor Charlie Pierce had put it at the center of his original budget proposal this spring.
But the assembly decided against drawing from the $7.5 million fund to balance the budget. Assembly member Kenn Carpenter from Seward has revived the idea with an ordinance to draw $1,750,000 from the fund.
“This doesn’t have to be used. I know that we say that. If (the assembly) votes it in, it’ll be put into the general fund right away. But we don’t have to use that money and what we don’t use, the way I wrote it, can be put back into the land trust with a payment plan of two years, like the mayor had originally agreed on," Carpenter said.
Mayor Pierce had proposed using as much as $4.5 million from the fund, but that was rejected by a vote of 5-4. Instead, a slim majority of the assembly was willing to wait and see if any of the many tax proposals on the table would gain any traction. But Carpenter says taxes shouldn’t be the focus.
“I don’t think taxes are a priority. I don’t think the voters want that. (The land trust) is money that’s sitting there earning one percent interest. I thought it would be the way, just for this year, to help balance out and try to bring us a smaller deficit. No matter what, we’re going to have a deficit.”
Unless any of those tax proposals are approved. A recently-proposed excise tax on tobacco would likely take care of that deficit, which is less than $3 million. And that tax could be approved by the assembly, not borough voters, who have shot down a number of revenue-boosting ballot measures in recent years. Details on that excise tax are pending, but two others are up for debate Tuesday night, a 12 percent borough-wide bed tax and a measure that would repeal the borough’s tax holiday on non-prepared food items by three months. The grocery tax could also pass with just a vote of the assembly.