It was a narrow margin Monday but Petersburg’s borough assembly approved a ballot question on a remote subdivision on eastern Mitkof Island. Voters will decide whether those lands should stay in the part of the borough that has a higher property tax rate. However, the assembly was not interested in advancing a different question on instituting term limits for the assembly and mayor.
Property owners for the remote land have asked for a lower tax rate to reflect a lack of services from the borough. The land can be accessed by forest road and trails during the warmer months or boat year round. But it doesn’t receive snow plowing, police coverage, trash collection or other basic services extended elsewhere on the island.
The ordinance asks voters whether to remove this land from the borough’s service area one, which follows the boundaries of the former city of Petersburg. That change would drop the parcels into the lower borough-wide tax rate paid by land owners outside of the old city limits.
Assembly member Jeigh Stanton Gregor opposed the measure because the remote location and lack of services are already reflected in property assessments. He also didn’t want to start making tax changes on a smaller scale.
“If we want to assess different levels of tax equity as member (Dave) Kensinger spoke to at the last meeting, I would much rather take a look at that as a whole and make a comprehensive decision as to, for lack of a better term, piece-mealing it out, we’ll address this now, address this later,” Stanton Gregor said. “I have no problem leaning into that broader and I’d say much muddier waters of a conversation of tax equity but I don’t want to do it this way so I’ll be voting no today.”
The borough says the average assessed value for land in service area one is $5.29 a square foot. Some of the most expensive properties in town, waterfront lots along Sandy Beach Road, are assessed at $13 a square foot. Waterfront at Frederick Point East is 30 cents a square foot and non-waterfront land there is eight cents a square foot.
The borough estimates it will lose around 10,000 dollars a year in property tax revenue with this change.
Voters approved the borough in 2013, along with the boundaries of the service area to include Frederick Point East. That was annexed into the old city of Petersburg in 1978.
Mayor Mark Jensen was also opposed. He was concerned with setting a precedent.
“If we put this on the ballot and if it passes and then other people in different areas in the community that think their property is assessed higher than it should be because they don’t have water and sewer and they have maybe power. Are they going to try and do the same thing and lower their mill rate?” Jensen wondered.
However, a majority of the assembly voted to put the question on the ballot in third and final reading.
“For me this is, I understand that they might be assessed at a different value but I think part of the issue we have here is maybe the community isn’t aware how the assessment is done,” said Jeff Meucci. “For me, the Frederick Point East is the low hanging fruit for maybe possible changes to the tax or the assessment values in town.”
Joining Meucci in voting yes were Dave Kensinger, Bob Lynn and Taylor Norheim and it passed 4-3. That means it will appear on the October 5th ballot. It will need the support of voters in service area one along with the land owners in Frederick Point East in order to pass.
The assembly voted down another potential ballot question. As drafted that would have set term limits for the assembly and mayor. Those elected officials could not serve more than two full consecutive terms without sitting one out. Assembly member Norheim wanted voters to decide on that.
“I believe having term limits would kind of push people to be more honest about what they’re trying to do,” Norheim said. “It would maybe remove some hypocrisy from things here and there. You would have more openings for new people to get into government.”
That didn’t fly with his colleagues, who brought up the time commitment for the positions, and the benefit of experience. Chelsea Tremblay noted that incumbents are regularly voted out of office in favor of newcomers.
“If somebody wanted to throw their hat into the ring in an election, the barriers are very low,” Tremblay said. “And so I don’t think I’ll be voting for this just because it doesn’t seem productive. The only public input we’ve gotten on this topic from the public is against it so far. So I’m not hearing an overwhelming rush of people desiring this.”
Tremblay was among the six votes against that ordinance, with Norheim the only yes. It dies in first reading and won’t be on the ballot.