Assembly defeats proposal to reduce its compensation

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly continued its debate about assembly member compensation at its Tuesday meeting in Seward.

For the second meeting in a row an ordinance to adjust compensation was up for public hearing, after being postponed at the April 1 meeting. The assembly defeated ordinance 2014-11. However, assembly member Brent Johnson gave notice of reconsideration, so the assembly might be voting on the issue again at its next meeting. 

The original ordinance sponsored by Johnson sought to cut compensation to assembly members. The assembly voted to amend Johnson’s ordinance with a substitute ordinance sponsored by assembly member Bill Smith of Homer, which looks to increase compensation to account for inflation rates. The vote to adopt the ordinance was postponed until this week’s meeting to allow time for more public comment.

Compensation was last adjusted in 2000. Assembly members’ compensation currently includes:

• A monthly allowance of $400 for members and $500 for the president;

• Mileage based on the current Internal Revenue Service rate;

• A vehicle allowance of $150 or $250 for members representing the south peninsula, east peninsula and Homer;

• An Internet allowance at $25 per month;

• Portable computer devices and;

• Health and life insurance at the same level as borough department heads. 

Members may choose to not receive any of the allowances and benefits.

Smith’s substitute sought to increase the monthly allowance for members to $560 and the president’s allowance to $700. 

Johnson moved to amend the ordinance by changing the health and life insurance benefits to be at the same level as half-time borough employees instead of department heads.

“I want to fight it somehow and this is my little way of trying to do that,” he said.

Johnson said it is wrong for the borough to be paying $18,600 annually for his insurance.

“The voters wanted to reduce the borough government when they voted to raise the property tax exemption,” Johnson said. “So in light of that, I’m looking for a way to do what the voters want to do.” 

Smith said in general he thinks voters always want to reduce the cost of government, but he thinks the vote on property tax exemption levels was just to reduce how much they were paying out of pocket.

The amendment failed with assembly members Charlie Pierce and Johnson casting the only votes in favor of the change.

Johnson made a second motion to amend the ordinance by removing the Internet allowance in its entirety. 

The amendment passed with assembly members Wayne Ogle, Kelly Wolf, Smith, Johnson and Pierce voting in favor.

“I thank you for dropping off the Internet access fee,” Johnson said. “That is a step in the right direction.”

The vote to adopt the ordinance, which would have taken effect on Oct. 15, 2016, and not affected currently seated members, failed.

Assembly members Dale Bagley, Ogle, Pierce, Wolf and Johnson voted against the ordinance as amended with the deletion of the $25 Internet allowance.

During assembly comments at the end of the meeting, Johnson gave notice of wishing to reconsider the vote on ordinance 2014-11. 

“The reason I want to do that is because my $25 cut is on the line there,” Johnson said.

At the next assembly meeting at 6 p.m. on May 6 in Soldotna a motion for reconsideration will have to be made and then the assembly will have to vote whether or not to reconsider the item. Depending on the outcome of that vote the assembly may vote again on the ordinance.

Kaylee Osowski is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.