Besides senior sales tax questions and a tobacco tax, Petersburg voters this month are also deciding whether to raise the community’s cap on sales tax and whether to opt out of financial disclosure requirements for local elected officials.
Ballot proposition 1 asks voters whether elected officials should be exempt from the state’s financial disclosure requirements. A yes vote will remove that reporting requirement. A no vote will keep it in place.
The requirement impacts anyone running for assembly, school board, planning commission and hospital board. Those office holders have to report their main sources of income. The state law is intended to discourage public officials from acting upon a private or business interest in the performance of a public duty. It’s also meant to help hold office holders accountable.
During a radio call in show last month, borough manager Steve Giesbrecht said local residents have been forthcoming with potential conflicts. “The very few times that it’s come up that there might be a conflict I’ve seen our elected officials say, wave their hand and say I’ve got a potential financial impact on this or it’s gonna affect my income, I’m not going to vote on it,” Giesbrecht said. So I think we’ve always had really good luck with people self-reporting.”
Giesbrecht said the requirement discouraged local business people from running for office because they did not want to disclose business information.
Business owner and former assembly member Sue Flint said she filled out the paperwork online when she ran for borough assembly. She said it was easier than she expected because her business is a corporation. “It’s very difficult for people who aren’t protected by a corporation and very discouraging I think. I just don’t think it’s necessary here and hope people will support doing away with that.”
Elected officials under the old city of Petersburg, but the requirement returned with the formation of the borough in 2013. Information is filed with the Alaska Public Offices Commission and it’s available to the public on request through that state agency.
One caller had a question about penalties for elected officials who do not disclose a financial interest. There are prohibitions in Petersburg’s borough charter against an elected official participating in an official action if that person has a substantial financial interest. The punishment spelled out in the charter is loss of that elected seat, or loss of a job, in the case of an employee.
Another question on the ballot deals with sales tax, and could increase the amount of tax revenue coming into the borough. Customers currently pay the borough’s six percent sales tax on only the first 1,200 dollars of large purchase. Proposition 5, if approved, would increase the community’s cap to 2000 dollars.
Voters narrowly defeated a similar increase in 2012. That was a proposal to increase the cap to 1,700 dollars. And it failed by just six votes that year.
Finance director Jody Tow said outlined what makes up the bulk of large purchases. “We do know that 80 percent of the sales that fall above the 12-hundred dollar cap consist of fuel, construction, contractors and repairs, parts and services and sales. So that’s a large part of it. It’s not your everyday groceries, it’s not your everyday purchases.”
A committee looking at sale tax exemptions recommended an increase to 15-hundred dollars, but the borough assembly wanted it at 2000 dollars or higher. Mayor Mark Jensen said he’d be voting no on the tax cap raise. “I’ve had people that own businesses concerned about this. It might drive people to more internet shopping and I’d hate to drive anymore business out of town. So I’m not in favor of the two thousand dollar cap.”
All the ballot measures will actually enact the changes, meaning they’re not advisory votes requiring assembly action at a later date, or a subsequent vote. The sales tax changes would take effect in January of 2015.
The polls are open Tuesday October 7th from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the aquatic center.