Sales tax initiative won’t go to ballot this year

Kenai Peninsula voters won’t have to decide on a half-percent increase in the sales tax this October, though they still may in 2019.

A citizen group has been trying to gather signatures for a ballot initiative to increase the borough-wide sales tax rate from 3 percent to 3.5 percent, or a 50 cent increase on every $100 spent. The signatures were due Tuesday, but the initiative sponsors informed the Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk’s office that they wouldn’t make it by the deadline for this year’s ballot, said Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship. That doesn’t rule it out entirely, though, Blankenship said.

“(The sponsors) get 90 days from the date when the petition was filed,” she said.

That gives the sponsors until Sept. 24 to turn in all the signatures they need. Once they file the signatures, the clerk’s office has 10 days to review and verify them, after which time the sponsors can get an extension should some of the signatures not count.

Soldotna resident Linda Hutchings, the main sponsor, said the group is about halfway to the 2,200 signatures they need to make it onto the ballot. The group filed the petition less than a month ago, which is not very much time before the deadline for the October ballot information, she said. With people returning from summer vacation and other major events like Soldotna’s Progress Days, the Kenai Peninsula Fair and Salmonfest coming within the next month, the sponsors will have a chance to ask more people to support the initiative, she said.

“We’re very, very happy with the results that we have had, and plugging on,” she said. “We think we’re going to achieve our goal.”

So far, she said the feedback has been positive and people have been willing to support increasing the tax to support education. Sales tax revenues in the Kenai Peninsula Borough are specifically dedicated to supporting education. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly has been wrangling with how to fill a gap in its budget for a year, eyeing multiple types of different revenue but shooting down multiple options, approving a 0.2 mill property tax increase in June, which only partially covered the deficit. Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce vetoed some of the approved line-item expenditures in the assembly’s approved budget as well, bringing the deficit down below $3 million.

Assembly members Kelly Cooper and Hal Smalley had sponsored an identical ordinance raising the sales tax to 3.5 percent, pending voter approval, but the assembly voted it down before sending it to the ballot. The borough finance department estimated at the time that the increase would bring in about $5 million annually.

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