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Pierce maintains slim lead in KPB mayor race

A three-way race for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor on October 3rd ended in a runoff. But the runoff Tuesday between Charlie Pierce and Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings was so close, that an abnormally high number of absentee ballots would have to determine the outcome.

Going into Friday, Hutchings trailed by just 223 votes. The clerk’s office counted 1,651 absentee and questioned ballots. Pierce took almost 900 of them and as of Friday afternoon, still had a 51 vote lead over Hutchings.

But these are unofficial results, and ballots postmarked the day of the runoff and the previous day are still eligible to be counted. And so, the race goes on.

But business with the borough assembly continues as well. Apart from cannabis, taxes and new revenues were the dominant issues in this fall’s election. A ballot proposition to raise the borough sales tax cap was shot down by a wide margin. But assembly member Dale Bagley thinks there’s still room for debate on how to raise some more money to close the borough’s budget gap.

“Most places in Alaska have a bed tax and I think we need to have this discussion because I like having taxes spread among a lot of different user groups rather than just on the backs of property owners.”

Bagley is hoping to get the bed tax question on the ballot for next year’s elections. A similar proposal was debated for this year’s ballot, but the assembly decided to ask voters the sales tax question instead.

Previously, an eight percent tax has been proposed, with half of that exempt for businesses in the cities if a similar tax is imposed there. It was estimated that would bring in more than enough to close the budget gap. Bagley’s proposal wouldn’t raise quite that much. He’s suggested a six percent tax, with three percent exempt.

Without some new revenues, Bagley says, the discussion will have to shift toward property taxes and a potential hike in the mill rate, rarely a popular move. He says more people are warming to the idea that it will take more than just budget cuts to solve the problem.

“I think through the campaign, most people began to understand. I know that even Charlie stopped saying we could cut all the way to where we needed to be and was talking about maybe some additional sources of revenue. I’m optimistic that he’ll be supportive of something here and like I said, it’s either this or we’re going to have to look at doing the mill rate at some point.”

The Assembly will take up the question of whether that bed tax should be on the next ballot when it meets on Tuesday evening when, perhaps, we’ll also see a new mayor sworn in.