Assembly backs mayor’s veto of bed tax proposal

By KAYLEE OSOWSKI

Morris News Service – Alaska

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly stood behind the borough mayor on his veto of the body’s decision to ask voters if they want a 3 percent borough-wide bed tax.

The assembly discussed and voted on overriding the veto at its Tuesday night meeting. Four assembly members voted to override the veto. For the override to pass, six of the nine assembly members would have had to vote in favor of it.

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre vetoed the proposed bed tax Monday.

When it was first proposed, Navarre said he didn’t have a problem with the bed tax, but he hadn’t considered all of the nuances associated with the tax. 

“There was a lot of angst that was discussed (in public testimony),” Navarre said.

When public testimony first began, Navarre started to realize all of the issues with the proposed tax, he said.

He said the assembly could authorize the first class cities in the borough to implement their own bed taxes.

“And I think the city governments ought to make the determinations about how they’re going to tax their residents on their own,” Navarre said.

He said he found the “most troubling aspect” to be if the borough passed a bed tax, Homer, which mostly opposed the proposed tax, would be forced to have a bed tax.

“It was not an easy thing to veto because we have literally sat through three separate meetings where it has been discussed in great detail,” he said.

Shanon Hamrick, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, which annually receives $300,000 from the borough to promote tourism, said the agency was surprised by the veto.

She said prior to the veto announcement, the council met with Navarre to discuss the decision. 

“Ultimately to move forward with the bed tax, we’ve always known that we would need the support of the administration,” Hamrick said. “So in the end it is better the mayor vetoed the ordinance rather than letting it move forward and speaking against it.”

She said while a bed tax has been a divisive issue, KPTMC has a good relationship with its members and even those who opposed it said they want to continue supporting the agency.

“So I do believe that we will be able to move forward in a very healthy way and work together as an industry for the betterment of everybody,” Hamrick said.

Assembly member Brent Johnson said those on both sides of the contentious issue made valid points. 

At the July 22 assembly meeting, Johnson voted in favor of sending the question to the voters.

“But here’s my point,” Johnson said. “The mayor is real popular and this has to pass the voters. By him weighing in to veto this thing just (swayed) 1,100-bazillion votes the other direction and so I think it’s time to make peace and regroup. So I’m not going to vote in favor of overriding the veto.”

Assembly member Mako Haggerty who represents the southern Kenai Peninsula was opposed to the tax from the beginning because the money would be specifically for the promotion of tourism. He said he would rather see the money collected go into the general fund.

Sue McClure, assembly member representing the East Peninsula, said she would like to see the voters weigh in on the issue and voted to override the veto.

Assembly member Bill Smith of Homer, sponsor of the bed tax ordinance, also voted in favor of overriding the veto.

He said assembly members previously asked KPTMC to find another funding source or proposed cutting their budget. When he found the agency would support a bed tax, he decided to move forward with the ordinance as a possible solution to those issues.

Hamrick said moving forward, KPTMC plans to work hard to bring a more detailed marketing plan with additional programs to the assembly for it to make an investment decision.

“I anticipate asking for an enhanced budget,” she said. “I don’t have a crystal ball to be able to determine whether or not that would be supported.”

On Wednesday morning, Jim Lavrakas, executive director of the Homer Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber board was “relieved and pleased that the mayor vetoed the bed tax ordinance and the assembly upheld that veto.”

Early on, the Homer chamber board opposed the ordinance.

Kaylee Osowski is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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