Voters may decide bed tax increase on October ballot
The Nome Common Council has kicked off a campaign to reclaim public right-of-ways, portions of charted roads that lie beneath propane tanks, derelict vehicles, defunct structures, and other detritus as well as well-intentioned, but unauthorized uses.
The City of Nome has issued a public service announcement that administrators have been instructed by the Council to take steps to claim the platted right-of-way known as Tobuk Alley. This topic appeared under communications on the agenda at the most recent Council meeting July 9 and affects the undeveloped section of Tobuk Alley from Steadman Street westward to Spokane Street. That section of the alley, not cut through, parallels Fourth Avenue and lies north of Alaska Cab Garage. This section of public right-of-way hosts the aforementioned treasures at the east end and then runs through an ersatz greenbelt strewn with neighborhood belongings here and there.
“They’ve had use of it for years and years. You can’t adverse possess City right-of-way,” Councilman Stan Andersen declared. In the past, Nome Volunteer Fire Dept., the Nome Planning Commission and public works department had asked for the Tobuk Alley to be freed up, Andersen said.
Owners of abutting property along that stretch of right-of-way must remove all encroachments by September. The City’s Public Works Dept. will remove encroachments that remain with all costs charged to individual property owners.
“My problem is that we keep raising taxes to maintain roads; here, we want to add more road that we cannot use,” Councilman Mark Johnson said.
“They are getting to use that alley. If they get to use that alley, I get to use mine by my house,” Andersen said.
In other business, the Council unanimously introduced into first reading an ordinance, which if adopted, would put a question on the Oct. 2 municipal ballot whether there should be a permanent increase in the hotel/motel room tax rate from 6 percent to 10 percent and place before qualified voters a proposition for approval or rejection.
If voters answer “Yes” on the October ballot, the new tax rate would begin on Jan. 1, 2019.
The Council refused 4 to 2 to put a referendum on the Oct. 2 ballot concerning a vehicle rental tax of 10 percent. Councilman Jerald Brown pointed out that the City already has a 7 percent tax on vehicle rentals during the summer. There is also a 10 percent state tax. Adding an additional 10 percent additional sales tax would bring the tax total to 27 percent or more, depending on computation.
“That’s a tax of 27 percent on one industry,” Brown said. He didn’t subscribe to the theory that the tax would collect money for the City budget from tourists. Many rentals came from visiting government employees—rentals that would be tax exempt, he said. Local residences rented vehicles for trips into the country or for the weekend. “I’m not in support of this,” Brown said.
Would Brown be in favor of a different tax rate? Andersen asked. “In favor of any less?”
He did not think the administration of a lower tax rate would be worth the cost, Brown said. The Visitors’ Center and Chamber of Commerce needed more money, Andersen said. He thought the rental vehicle tax would be a fair way for the City to get it, he explained. Councilman Mark Johnson went along with Brown. “We have a number of local renters. An additional 10 percent would put a burden on locals,” Mark Johnson said. The Council voted down putting the vehicle rental tax question on the October ballot.
The Council granted relief to the Nome Seventh-Day Adventist Church group on a property tax bill of $34,684.89 of which $27,199.39 was delinquent. For the last 35 years the church had been exempt from property tax in accordance with a state statute, Ryan Woehler told the Council during public comment period. “A bill of this amount came [10 days ago] as quite a shock and it has taken us quite a while to find out how this happened,” a letter from Woehler in the Council packet said. He explained his findings. Applications for exemptions, which were carefully filled out and returned in a timely manner, had been sent to a Nome box number from 1983 to 2014. For some reason, no application was filled out for 2015. In early 2015 the City issued a tax bill for all the church’s four properties due to the new status as non-exempt. However, the bills were mailed to the Alaska Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Anchorage. From 2015 to 2018, bills and notices of delinquency went to the Anchorage office.
On Feb. 12, 2018, the local church’s assistant treasurer went to Nome City Hall to fill out a registration for tax exemption. She asked about the property tax exemption status as it seemed odd that the church had not been asked to fill out one for some time.
Sometime in March, the Nome SDA Church received its first tax bill for $34,684.89, of which over $27,000 was delinquent.
In May the Council approved an exemption for 2018 property tax upon payment of the delinquent balance. City administrators at the time commented that the church had a poor filing history, filing late or not at all. Woehler asked the following questions in his letter: “Why after 35 years of successful communication with Nome SDA Church would you send a bill anywhere but to the people you have dealt with? Why after three years of no response was there no follow up other than a computer-generated bill that was automated to the address in the database? We have had a history dating back to 1974 with the property in question. How is it that we can be so quickly dismissed as not having an interest in compliance?”
The church has four lots in Icy View—one the church is on, one which there is a parsonage, an empty lot across the street used for a parking lot and an empty lot across from the fire hall. When the church ran a school, the latter two lots were used as a playground. These two lots no longer qualified for property tax exemption, Woehler acknowledged.
After some discussion, Andersen made a motion to grant exemptions for the two lots with church and parsonage for years 2015, 2016 and 2017 along with 2018 already granted, and collect back tax, interest and penalties for the parking lot and former playground lot—in round figures, $2,700. Brown proposed an amendment, which would waive the penalty but not the interest, a reduction of about $150. The Council approved the main motion with the amendment unanimously. Woehler expressed gratitude.
Dave Csiki took the podium to question the abatement on a structure at 604 East Front Street next to his property that had been placed on the abatement list by the City. As back ground, the East Front Street property was one of four properties listed by the City to be torn down or repaired to take them out of the category of public nuisance or fire or safety or health hazard by a July 1 deadline.
The property in question, owned by the late Jim West Sr. (Jim West Jr.), currently had bug netting over the windows, rotting wood and a roof that admitted daylight, according to Csiki’s description. As a result, local appraisers had downgraded the value of his property next door to the tune of around $50,000, according to Csiki.
An inspection report by Dan Stang effective July 2 stated that roof repair was under construction, with work going on to secure the structure with no building permit on file. Stang, building inspector, works part-time and does not have a license.
“What about the abatement requirements?” Csiki asked. “Is it just hot air? Should city fathers be held to the same standards as the rest of us? Should I have to tell the fire chief [Jim West Jr.] that it is a fire and health hazard?” Csiki asked the Council.
“There is something not level there. We don’t have to be engineers to see it is so rotted out a foot can go through the floor or a hand through the wall. What was the intent when it was put on the abatement list?”
Public works and the building inspector did not want to be the bad guys, Tom Moran, city manager said.
Csiki wanted someone to be bad guys. His property represented his investment of life and money, he said.
Moran and the Council discussed having a third party or a building inspector from Anchorage come to see if progress had been made, as abatement was subjective. Councilman Doug Johnson questioned the wisdom of spending money for other opinions when the abatement process and discussion of the abatement list had already taken place.
Another of the four abatement properties, the Leonard Seppala House at 207 Bering Street has been removed after owner Pat Krier donated it to a group for restoration. A property at 407 Lomen owned by Gladys West is under process of demolition. A structure at 511 West Second owned by Donald Johnson has had doors and windows secured
“When I received a letter [on another property, now off the list] I took you seriously. Mr. Krier took you seriously,” Csiki said.
He would take steps to review the situation, Moran said.