Nikiski resident Joseph Ross is running for the District 3 seat — representing Nikiski — on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. The seat is currently held by Wayne Ogle. According to his candidate file, Ross has lived in Nikiski for 37 years and has owned and operated a gravel business, Alaska Roadrunners LLC, since 1993. Ross has previously served nine years on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Road Service Area Board as an at-large member from 1999-2008.
What makes you qualified to serve on the assembly?
I would say my years of being in the community and being involved in things. You know, you’ve got people that run for positions, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a service area board or an assembly position or city council or whatever, but you have people that run that, you don’t know what their reason for running is. Maybe it’s one concern, one issue, and they want to do something about that one thing. I’ve been involved in all kinds of stuff here. I’ve volunteered for lots of places, Habitat for Humanity and After the Bell and over at the Food Bank and that kind of stuff. I’m active at the Nikiski Senior Center, and they wanted me on their board over there but I couldn’t run for the senior center board at the same time as running for assembly. Which seems odd to me, I don’t know why you couldn’t do both. …I don’t know why you can’t do more than one thing, but somebody said you can’t, I guess.
Why do you want to serve on the assembly and what do you hope to accomplish?
I think the assembly, even though we’re supposed to be nonpartisan, has swung to the left quite a bit. They’re fairly liberal, and you know I see some issues on the horizon that need to be addressed by conservative people. I think we don’t have a balance on there now. We’re seeing a lot of lopsided voting on issues, and I’m not really a right-wing conservative. I’m fiscally conservative but when I took the political test years ago I score as a moderate Republican, but I’m still more conservative than several of the members that are on there now. There’s some issues coming up that are dear to my heart, and I would like to be there when they’re brought forward.
What would be your approach to balancing the budget?
If we’re going to increase revenue, I’d hate to see it put on the property owners. They’re already paying enough as it is in my opinion. Right now the budget is in good shape, but at some point down the road we may need to increase revenues and I think increasing the sales tax cap would be a good way to do it. It’s not going to hurt anybody big time. It’s just a little bit every time you go to the store. The people that spend more money pay more money, so if you’re not spending a lot you don’t pay a lot. That would be one good way, but I’m happy with the way the budget’s going. If the price of oil goes up we’ll see increases in our borough budget anyway, and they’re reassessing out north right now so I expect I’ll see a bigger tax bill on my properties.
How can the borough encourage higher voter turnout?
I think the people that are interested go out and vote. And if you’re not interested don’t vote. If you’re not aware of the issues and the candidates, stay home. Simple as that. If you care enough to go out and vote and you care about what happens in your neighborhood and in your community then go do it, but we’re not going to force people to go do it. The borough’s looking at the mail-in ballot thing, and I don’t think that I’m a fan of that. Who knows who’s filling the thing out? Like my son Jason said, it could be there’s one strong person in that house and they fill out the ballots for everybody and send them in and vote who they want to vote for or they tell everybody who to vote for. You go to the polling place and pull that curtain shut and that’s a secret ballot. You can put anything on there that you want. I think that’s the way it ought it to be and I’d like to see it stay that way. I can see mail-in ballots for people that can’t get out, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to have it that way as a whole and have people filling it out like it’s a lottery ticket or something from people that just don’t care.
The offering of invocations during assembly meetings has become a divisive issue over the last few years, costing taxpayers thousands of dollars. Ordinances have been introduced to rid the practice altogether. Where do you stand on that issue?
I wouldn’t be in favor of removing the invocation. Right now anyone that wants to can apply to do the invocation, and I guess that’s the American way. If I was on the assembly and somebody came in there to praise Satan or whatever I’d probably get up and walk out like some of them have done in the past. Nobody says you have to sit through it or stand through it, but I don’t want to take it away. I go to the senior center out her in Nikiski for lunch pretty regularly — it’s a beautiful facility run by great people — and I love going out there and rubbing shoulders with my friends and neighbors. Before a meal we do a prayer and the pledge, and it feels real good. Feels appropriate. Not everybody joins in, but everybody seems to stand up. I think it’s a cool thing.
Issues surrounding gravel pits have also caused a lot of controversy within the borough. What would you say to voters concerned about a potential conflict of interest due to your gravel business?
I dealt with that when I was on the road board. You excuse yourself or you get excused on an issue that you have an interest in. They can tell you it’s OK to vote on a topic, and I’ve seen that happen on the road service board. Someone says I should be excused because of this, and then the other members actually vote to not excuse that person if they felt like it wasn’t a big conflict. That is one of the issues that are dear to my heart, the gravel pits. These are small mom-and-pop businesses, that’s what runs this state. If the borough uses all the tools that they’re looking at, new regulations on gravel pits, the only ones they’re going to have will be great big gravel pits. It’s going to have to be large-scale pits just to work with all the buffers and the new regulations. So what that’s going to do is it’s going to take a little pit like mine right here on the side of the road. It’s going to shut it down and you’re going to have a great big pit that’s going to be at the back of some subdivision, so these trucks will be driving through subdivisions, and I think it would make things worse. My place is right next to my neighbor’s and I can work all day and my neighbors don’t even know I’m out there. My equipment is quiet. People that aren’t next to one assume it’s going to be worse than it is. Crushers can be loud, but there are regulations on those already and they can only run at certain times of the day.