Assembly rejects most ballot questions but OKs vote for parks service area

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday rejected ballot measures that would have imposed a new sales tax, red-light cameras, a higher bed tax and an advisory vote on water fluoridation.

Five propositions for the April ballot were up for debate at the Assembly's Tuesday night meeting. By about 9:30 p.m., only one had been approved: an effort by Assemblyman John Weddleton to expand the city's parks and recreation service area to the entire Anchorage Hillside.

Weddleton's proposal got unanimous approval for the ballot. But the sales tax and red-light camera measures failed to clear the Assembly's eight-vote requirement for ballot propositions that would change city charter.

The city election is April 4.

Assemblyman Dick Traini wanted voters to change city charter to allow the use of automated cameras to catch people who run red lights. He said his measure only allowed the city to explore the option of using cameras.

But there were open questions, such as whether the system would be managed by a private company that would take a cut of the citation revenue as was the case with the city's failed photo-radar system in the 1990s. Assembly members who voted against putting red-light cameras on the ballot said there should be more discussion about what the ordinance would look like.

"Right now, it's a pig in a poke," said Assemblywoman Amy Demboski of Chugiak-Eagle River, using an expression that refers to buying an item without inspecting its contents first.

The Assembly also postponed indefinitely a ballot proposal from Traini to increase the city's bed tax, a tax on hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts, by nearly 17 percent. Representatives of the local hotel industry came to the meeting to speak out against the proposal.

And a proposed ballot measure from Assemblyman Bill Evans for a local sales tax also failed. Evans wanted to use revenue from the sales tax to decrease property tax bills.

In both cases, Assembly members also said more time was needed to vet Traini and Evans' proposals before asking voters to change city charter.

Discussion about a local sales tax — defeated three times in the past by Anchorage voters — doesn't appear likely to fade away anytime soon. The administration of Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has suggested a special election for a sales tax as a way to generate revenue for public safety and Seward Highway policing.

West Anchorage Assemblyman Eric Croft said he planned to survey his constituents about interest in a seasonal sales tax for capital construction in the coming months.

Shortly before the meeting adjourned after 11 p.m., the Assembly also voted down a Demboski proposal to ask voters for opinions on water fluoridation, a source of perennial controversy in Anchorage. The vote was 9-1 against, with Demboski supporting it and Assemblyman Bill Starr absent. Demboski said she believes water fluoridation to be beneficial, but wanted to poll voters on the issue through the April ballot.

After hearing from fluoride opponents as well as dental experts Tuesday night, Evans said that it didn't make sense to put a question to voters that should be based on scientific research. Weddleton said he wanted to see whether a citizen initiative aimed at removing fluoride from city water would get enough support to appear on the ballot.

Spenard Road eminent domain approved

The Assembly voted Tuesday night to allow city officials to obtain property by use of eminent domain to rebuild the north end of Spenard Road. The vote was 9-1, with Demboski the sole "no" vote and Weddleton, who owns a business in the project area, recused after he declared a conflict of interest.

Several Spenard Road property owners and tenants testified to the Assembly Tuesday night, saying they weren't being fairly compensated for their loss of property.

Croft, who represents West Anchorage, told those who were in opposition that the Assembly's vote was strictly on whether the project was in the public interest, not on whether the compensation level was appropriate. He said that will be left up to the court systems.

Corrections: An earlier version of this story contained errors. Only charter changes, not all ballot propositions, as originally stated, require an eight-vote majority on the Assembly. The story also misstated the vote tally as 10-1 for the authorization of eminent domain on Spenard Road. The vote was 9-1. John Weddleton did not participate in the vote.

Devin Kelly

Devin Kelly was an ADN staff reporter.