Property tax database

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward has discontinued public access to the borough's online public property tax database.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward has effectively discontinued public access to the borough's online property tax database through the veto of an ordinance passed last week and a Wednesday administrative action. 

The mayor's action removes the ability for residents to search personal property by an individual's name effective June 28.

Ward defended the decision, noting that he hopes it will provide privacy and protection for residents who don't want their homes to be able to be located through the database. 

Ordinance 2019-26, which the assembly approved Thursday evening and Ward vetoed Wednesday, would have exempted judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, emergency medical and rescue personnel, and corrections, probation and parole officers from public search.

But Ward went further, saying Wednesday morning he didn't want to divide the community over the issue and felt that all residents deserved the same protection. 

"One of the things that we did hear was that there were other folks in the community that felt like they ought to have that protection as well," he said. "So in an effort to not further divide the community by essentially saying this class of people deserves protection and these don't, we just said we're just going to do it for everyone. That way it gives all individual property owners the same protection." 

Those interested in accessing the information previously stored on the website, which will be scrubbed June 28, will be able to access it through a public records request that can be filled out at the borough building downtown.

"We still are going to have some access within the borough building itself for that type of data, but the general web-version viewing is going to fold for the searchable option," Ward said.

Assemblyman Andrew Gray, one of the original sponsors of the now-vetoed ordinance, said he supports the exemptions being extended to include all residents.

"I think that the commentary we received from a lot of people was correct in that it shouldn't just apply to these certain groups," Gray said Thursday. "So it's probably better to make this a blanket thing across the board. If people want to have their privacy protected, it essentially creates a public record anytime someone comes into the office to search someone's property."

Gray said he wasn't aware the mayor was planning the administrative order.

Another co-sponsor of the original ordinance, Assemblyman Matt Cooper, said he had spoken with Ward and knew the veto was coming. 

"I wish that we could have maybe heard about it further ahead of time and been able to postpone the vote or incorporate it into the ordinance just because a veto looks a little extreme, but I understand his thought process and don't plan on moving for an override," Cooper said.

Cooper noted that because of the nature of administrative actions, a future mayor would be able to undo Ward's action. Whereas, if the change were written into borough code, only the assembly would be able to do undo it in the future.

It would take a vote of six of the nine assembly members to override a veto. If another assembly member wishes to do so, Gray noted, the motion would be taken up at the next regular assembly meeting June 27. 

Ward told the Daily News-Miner Thursday morning that his office hasn't heard any feedback on the decision yet, but he noted there are some challenges that have already been anticipated in some areas.

"One of the things that we've already seen is that there's going to be some challenges with industries that use it, such as title companies and real estate agencies," Ward said. "So we're looking at different options on how we can make that information available on a limited basis."

Ward noted the change should reduce administrative staffing time. Having borough staff sift through the database to individually take people off the public view as the original ordinance had proposed would have taken a significant amount of time that will now be saved, he said. 

"What we're not sure about is what kind of public records request increases we're going to see because of it," Ward said. "So what we might consider different options for a subscription basis for like a title company or business that would have access to that information for a business purpose."

This is Ward's first veto since taking office in October 2018.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.  

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