Candidates share answers to wide-ranging questions
1. What is your philosophy on shaping the borough’s budget, specifically when it comes to funding for the school district and the borough’s non-departmental organizations?
Dale Bagley: I believe the Borough’s general fund balance should be around 18 million dollars. It is currently higher than that now. Historically if the Assembly does a balanced budget, approximately 2 million dollars will roll over into the Borough’s general fund, because departments don’t always spend all their money and revenue usually comes in higher than expected. I think the Borough is in great financial shape and will continue to be for a long time.
Due to changes in the funding formula from the State, the KPB School District is doing a lot better financially these days. Because of these changes the Borough does not have to fully fund to the cap like it used to. Most Boroughs around the state do not fully fund to the cap. There could be a time that the Borough again funds the KPB School District to the cap, but it will depend upon need.
Almost every city, borough and county in the United States provide some sort of funding to economic development, tourism promotion, public transportation, and education. As long as SBDC, EDD, KPTMC, CARTS, and KPC are held accountable for the monies they receive and have performance measure in place proving they are successful, then I believe they should be funded.
Debbie Brown: Nearly 70% of our borough budget goes to the local school district. As mayor my top priority will be to work with the governor and state legislators, to assure adequate state funding of education. If the state adequately funds education it takes the financial pressure off the local taxpayers, local school district, and borough assembly. I will relentlessly fight for elimination of all government unfunded mandates which in part, drive up the cost of education.
I favor limiting the scope of governmental power and services, and keeping tax revenues low. Therefore in times of diminishing borough revenue I would advocate limiting or eliminating funding for non-governmental organizations.
Borough funding for Kenai Peninsula College (KPC) is currently the only non-departmental organization authorized by borough wide voter approval. I will support funding of non-departmental organizations which have been approved by Kenai Peninsula taxpayers.
Mike Navarre: In both cases it requires good communication, proper oversight and accountability. The School Board is an elected body and they already go through a very open, public process to determine the budget for the school district. As an elected body, the School Board should be given deference but also held accountable for the level of school district expenditures and how the dollars are being spent. With regard to “non-departmental organizations,” their funding should be considered as part of the Borough’s open, public budget process and evaluated based on their benefits to residents and our communities. Any organization that receives funding through the Borough budget must be held accountable for the use of those funds through reporting requirements and proper oversight.
Fred Sturman: My approach to Borough budgeting for the school district will be to promote the most efficient operation possible, while providing a balanced budget to the Assembly. I support funding that is affordable and sustainable by Borough citizens. We can and must do more with the money we are spending.
We must address the serious issues of declining student enrollment and the demand for budget increases by our school board. I will not continue to fund education to the cap, if doing so requires more tax increases. We must balance the needs of the district with the ability for taxpayers to support their tax burden.
Non-departmental funding must be reduced. Borough citizens and businesses cannot continue to pay more tax to support a larger Borough budget every year. Our economy has declined, while Borough budgets continue to grow.
The only non-departmental funding I do support without question is the 0.1 mil levy for Kenai Peninsula College. Borough voters have approved this funding.
Proposition Two is on the ballot this election, to fund non-departmental organization from a 0.1% sales tax increase. I oppose this additional tax. I believe that such funding should be reduced, if not completely eliminated from the Borough budget. If the voters refuse this tax increase I will support their decision by proposing cuts in the next Borough budget for non-departmental funding.
Tough decisions must be made. I will do my best to provide a reasonable, sustainable budget that can be supported by the citizens of the Kenai Peninsula.
Gary Superman: I will continue to be committed to the provision of quality government services to our residents at the lowest possible tax rates. The budget is comprised of no less than five major funds; general, special revenue, debt service, capital projects and internal service. Special revenue operations comprise the bulk of borough activity as our service area and school operations fall within this category. As a committed decentrist who has always been a proponent of and supported service area board decision making process, budget promulgation, and voter approved bond propositions; I will continue to work diligently in partnership with them.
I am as concerned as most folks with the spectre of the federal situation. The continuing devaluation of the dollar (whether by printing or borrowing) will ultimately and negatively effect local government perhaps more than the individual. There are unknown variables of which we have little control over locally but I am fairly confident that the ensuing resurgence of the oil and gas sector in Cook Inlet Basin will help to temper those negatives. At this juncture in the borough’s history frugality is a wise rule; to challenge the rule, foolish. Acting on my utter belief in that rule, Mr. Smith (Homer) and myself orchestrated the walk down from the historic funding to the cap for the School District last year. This resulted in a $2 million savings to the borough. Tough decisions may well have to be made with all non-departmentals; they will be funded on a performance basis.
2. What would you like the future of the Central Peninsula Hospital and South Peninsula Hospital to be under your administration and what changes, if any, would you like to see made to the hospitals’ operating agreements?
Dale Bagley: I am very supportive of local ownership of both hospitals. I would also like to see both hospitals have the ability to quickly buy medical equipment and not have lengthy hurdles to go through. I would look at the relationship between the incorporated board and service area board and see what could be done to make them work smoother. Both hospitals are doing great and while I know there are concerns about the future, I am optimistic that both hospitals will meet the challenge and continue to provide quality local health care.
Debbie Brown: I will support maintaining local ownership and control of the Central Peninsula and South Peninsula hospitals. Borough owned hospitals must operate with transparency and accountability to the local taxpayer. I will support changes to the operating agreements that result in increased transparency and accountability. The health care industry is a significant part of the Kenai Peninsula economy. Greater input from health care providers and health care professionals will be used in my administration’s annual review of our local hospitals. All future risk and potential increases in cost to KPB taxpayers associated with owning the hospitals must be evaluated annually. I will use a common sense approach to develop a plan for paying down the hospital debt without compromising important services.
Mike Navarre: I would like to engage the communities in a process to determine the future role(s) of the hospitals. The operating agreements should be changed to recognize that health care is changing rapidly and some flexibility provided for the use of funds generated through hospital operations. Proper accountability would be maintained by developing clear policies and procedures, reporting requirements, good communication and proper oversight.
Fred Sturman: The Central Peninsula and South Peninsula Hospitals support a vital function within our community. I will provide leadership that will insure that the best possible service is provided for all local residents, while promoting the most efficient use of the Borough funds provided for their continued operation.
Our hospitals currently represent the majority of our Borough’s bonded indebtedness. The cost for debt servicing has traditionally been paid through mill rate assessments and is a direct cost paid by local taxpayers.
The Central Peninsula Hospital has an unreserved fund balance over twice the level recommended by the Assembly. I will propose that excess funds be used to pay their debt, which will have the long-term effect of reducing the overall cost to Borough taxpayers.
Future Medicare and Medicaid payments are likely to be reduced. A strong defensive action should be taken to keep future costs down. We can get a higher rate of return by paying down hospital bonds now.
There has been considerable public input and discussion regarding the current board structure of our Borough owned hospitals. I believe that through the further assessment of our current system, we can provide a different structure to better provide for and represent the will and long-term interests of Borough residents.
I will review and recommend changes, if warranted, to the hospitals’ operating agreements, where it can be found to be in the best interest of the Borough.
Gary Superman: Just about a year ago as the Assembly was wrestling with the proposed sale of CPH, I wrote an editorial piece for this paper stating that the central peninsula folks have always been committed to the local control and ownership of the hospital. That hasn’t changed and neither has the truth of the rest of the article. I’ll say it again. Some structural changes should occur if we are to maintain or enhance the current situation. These changes should include but not be limited to how the board is appointed, the length of the lease term, provisions to JV for certain hospital operations (i.e. cancer treatment and cardiac care, etc.). The no change option will eventually bring us out of the black and into the red. Well, the time has come, it seems sooner than later. On September 8, a Certificate of Need Application was received by the state for an ambulatory surgical center in Kenai. Not a clinic, but an 8365 square foot facility with a projected cost of over $8 million. It is critical that the new mayor re-open sincere dialogue with the current governing board and begin to move toward a new consensus the ball knocks every pin we have standing down.
3. What are the top three big budget items the borough should lobby for to secure funding from the state Legislature and why?
Dale Bagley: 1. I believe making the Sterling Highway safer should be high on the list. I know DOT has been looking at this issue for quite awhile now and have proposed changes in several locations. I would be willing to lobby our legislative delegation to support funding these projects.
2. Also I would support and lobby for the natural gas pipeline to Homer. Having natural gas to the Schools and Hospital would be a huge savings for the Borough and would also benefit businesses and residents in the Homer area.
3. The State has actually been very generous on road funding, landfill funding and school roof funding. Many of the things we have lobbied for over the years have been funded. I know the service area still have some items and I would support their funding requests.
Debbie Brown: 1. Education funding: The goal of education is to ensure each student has equal opportunity to achieve his/her highest potential. Schools and education are very important to Kenai Peninsula communities and families. State funding is essential and nearly 70% of the Borough budget goes to education.
2. Energy related facilities and infrastructure: Low cost energy is essential for a healthy and prosperous economy. We need low cost, clean burning energy delivered to Kenai Peninsula homes and businesses. I will work closely with Homer Electric Association, our member owned cooperative, for solutions to provide reliable, affordable electricity. I will aggressively advocate for building the large-volume All-Alaska Gasline so our jobs, resources, and opportunities stay here in Alaska. Building the All-Alaska gasline will energize the economy state wide, creating thousands of good-paying jobs and new value added industries in Alaska. The All-Alaska gasline will encourage more oil and gas exploration in Cook Inlet and throughout the state, and provide stable state funding for Kenai Peninsula essential services.
3. Road maintenance and construction: In 2011 many individuals lost their lives on Alaska roadways. Some Kenai Peninsula roads are unsafe and need improvement or repairs. Timely snow removal and sanding is also important to protect life and safety for Kenai Peninsula families. State funding is necessary. The funding of education, public safety, and natural resource facilities and improvements are written into Alaska’s constitution for the maximum benefit of its people.
Mike Navarre: Education funding is such a huge part of the Borough’s budget and responsibility that operating and capital funding for education has to continue to be a top priority. Funding for local road maintenance and improvements is another priority area on an annual basis. Absent state funding for roads all residents would be severely impacted. The extension of a natural gas line to Homer is important for both economic development and because of its impact on public and individual budgets.
Fred Sturman: Road construction and improvements are very good investment for state money. I will strongly support state funding to build needed infrastructure and improvement for the betterment of our Borough.
The state has agreed to pay 70% of our school bonds. I would like to see the Borough take its excess savings to pay down our debt. We can get a much better return on our Borough funds by paying down our debt, rather than holding large amounts of taxpayer money.
I would lobby for the state to “forward fund” the state’s contribution for our school district’s budget. This would avoid the “contract” lay-off rehire cycle that is so destructive to our teaching staff. This issue also has a destructive effect for our students. Our school district would benefit from this change.
Garbage is the second largest expenditure for the Borough. We should apply modern technology to better manage our waste. Many municipalities use a waste-to-energy process to reduce landfill volume by 95%, preserving our environment. This is clean and commercially proven technology with a great potential to save our Borough money. We must explore innovative ways to apply 21st century technology to improve our operating efficiency and protect our environment, while reducing our cost to provide necessary Borough services.
Gary Superman: The Legislative Priorities document written by the Assembly has been a successful achievement the body has developed over many years. It’s a tool the legislature has complimented the borough for and utilized extensively over the last decade. I give deference to that work and hope to have the opportunity to work with them in the next three years. That said, I would support continued funding for local roads, of which we have received $20 million since FY 09. With that continued funding the Road Department should look at ways to allow some heavily used roads and trails admittance to the maintenance system.
The Homer natural gas line extension has been funded through Phase 1. That extended the line to Chapman Elementary and installed a pressure reduction/oderization station in Anchor Point. Phase 2 should be funded as it will extend the line to Homer and Kachemak City. The cost savings in utility bills will be significant to the many public facilities, private businesses and residents of the South Peninsula.
In the past week Nikiski Jr./Sr. High was hit hard by vandalism. The destruction of public property ultimately translates to more unnecessary public cost. I support the continued request for a District Wide Security Camera System as a tool to control this criminal activity.
4. What, if any, changes would you suggest making to the borough’s tax structure, specifically when it comes to sales tax and property tax?
Dale Bagley: I would like to see a consistent year round sales tax that doesn’t fluctuate. I do not see the Borough needing an increase to its tax base. If Proposition 1 passes and the Borough revenues increase, I am willing to reduce the mill rate to hold the tax payers harmless.
Debbie Brown: For borough sales tax I suggest no changes. Sales tax should be used exclusively for funding schools and education. I will honor the voter mandate with regard to the non-prepared food tax.
For property tax, I will introduce an ordinance to establish a tax cap (tax increase limitation) and clearly define the “base amount” for the calculation.
Placing a tax cap on revenue derived from property owners, will stop dramatic increases in property tax bills and help seniors, veterans, and young families continue to afford living here.
Mike Navarre: No specific changes, at this time, pending the outcome of questions currently on the ballot.
Fred Sturman: I will introduce and strongly support a “Revenue Cap” similar to those enacted in Fairbanks, Anchorage and in the Mat-Su boroughs. A revenue cap would limit the annual growth of our Borough budget to growth equal to but not greater than, increases in population growth plus cost of living increases. Our Borough budget has grown dramatically and must be contained. These increases in the Borough budget are unsustainable and must be stopped.
Many Borough property owners are paying much higher property taxes now. Borough property assessments are often too high and do not reflect the market price. It will be a priority for me to review the entire procedure. It is very important that property values are accurately assessed.
Gary Superman: I have always been a proponent of general sales taxes over property taxation. To that end I was supportive of the increase from 2% to 3% in the sales tax rate. Concurrently the Assembly dropped the mill rate from 7 to 4½. Proposition 1 on the upcoming ballot asks the public to weigh in on the seasonal food tax exemption. A yes vote would discontinue the exemption and restore $3 million to the original estimated increase to borough revenues. I have never asked to simply increase those revenues without an ensuing tradeoff. Earlier, during my Assembly tenure, I pushed for and lobbied the legislature to increase the existing $10K residential exemption to $50K. The legislature approved an increase to $20K. I will be pushing hard again to get to the initial goal of $50K. It’s entirely appropriate and timely to raise the exemption as assessments have increased dramatically in the past 6-7 years. This is not only my conception of property tax relief but also was a recommendation of the Equitable Assessment Methodology Committee I and Millie Martin co-chaired three years ago. This accomplishes the goal of getting relief to our bonafide residents without pushing back dollars to the state every time we drop the mill rate. The state has an ad valorem tax rate of 20 mills on AS 43.56 (oil and gas property) and they collect on the difference between that and our mill rate. I expect the assessed value of this property to increase as that sector accelerates their activity.
5. What is the most important job of the borough mayor and how would you handle it?
Dale Bagley: The most important job at the Borough is to make sure you have good people in place and listen to them for advice. The Borough is a big place with lots of issues going on and it is important to trust your staff and not micromanage them.
Debbie Brown: In the past running the borough may have had only one most important job. But today, in time of recession, I recognize there are multiple “most important” jobs that must be handled simultaneously, such as running the day to day operations of the borough, being responsive to the problems of local residents, and working with the service areas and communities. I am a capable woman uniquely skilled in multi-tasking, handling several tough jobs simultaneously, and have a proven track record of doing so. That said...
The most important job of the borough mayor in 2011 should be getting the economy moving. A thriving community must have successful industry and employment opportunities to prosper. I will support development efforts leading to good-paying jobs for Kenai Peninsula workers. I will implement a local hire strategy for public and private sector jobs. Peninsula families come first! I will take action toward eliminating government roadblocks to private business investments, and will promote infrastructure projects to strengthen the Kenai Peninsula economy. I will pursue economic growth, with no growth in government. I will do my best to keep local, state, or federal government out of the way and out of the personal lives of families. My plans include creation of a fisheries commission and a volunteer advisory board, to discuss economic issues. I intend to encourage a positive, (we can do it) spirit for the Kenai Peninsula.
Mike Navarre: I think the most important job of the Borough Mayor is to responsibly manage the budget and competently administer borough government. I would do that by listening to residents, community groups and local government officials; and, by clearly communicating with the public about what their Borough government is doing, why we’re doing it and how much it costs.
Fred Sturman: The Borough Mayor must provide leadership, both as an administrator and to introduce ordinances to change Borough law (Borough code).
In recent years, our Assembly has enacted code that directly opposes many of the ballot initiatives passed by the citizens of the Borough. I will respect the will of the people and would veto any such Assembly actions. I will seek to restore and will respect initiatives that have already been passed. I will serve the people.
I will help preserve existing businesses and encourage new business by promoting a balanced budget that is sustainable. I will encourage business by fighting for the lowest possible tax rate absolutely necessary for Borough functions. I will fight tax increases.
I will run the Borough like a business. I will strive to promote the most efficient operation of every department. I have no axe to grind and no special interests to protect. I will work for the people of the Borough. I will do the best job that I can and I will expect every Borough employee to do so, too.
I am able and willing to work with the Assembly and every borough employee with the goal of providing necessary Borough functions and services in the most efficient way possible. We can have a more efficient and economical Borough operation.
Change for our Borough will be difficult but it starts with the first step. My goal is to provide leadership so that the next step will be in the right direction.
Gary Superman: The mayor’s duties are dovetailed and interconnected and if he (or she) tends to all of them success will be imminent. Obviously foremost is the daily running of borough operations. Take a look at any Assembly meeting agenda; it’s clear that the vast majority of business the Assembly approves emanates from the mayors office. Accepting and appropriating grant funding, awarding contracts, developing departmental and general borough policy are but of a few of the mayors’ boiler plate tasks. Budget development is a lengthy process that demands countless meetings with department heads, staff and the service areas. Once passed, it requires his oversight of revenues and expenses and to make adjustments when necessary.
Keeping constant open and honest lines of communication with the Assembly are of paramount importance. Borough government is primarily a two legged beast. I can’t overstate the consequence of the mayors’ ability (or inability) and willingness (or unwillingness) to communicate with the Assembly. Though there will always be different perspectives, philosophies and opinions, a communication breakdown only results in the borough limping along with bad morale and or public anger directed at one leg or the other.
As a business owner and veteran assemblymember who served in a variety of positions on that body, I bring with me the required management and proven leadership skills for the position. I bring with me an honesty that some folks would rather not hear and the will to make tough decisions. Finally, I’m a communicator, but more importantly, a sincere listener.