Duane Bannock and Hal Smalley are running for the Assembly District 2-Kenai seat.
1. What experience will you draw on in evaluating the borough’s $80 million budget?
Duane Bannock, District 2: My work experience includes time the KPB Mayor’s Office working with department and Service Area heads in preparation of their budgets and assisting in their presentation to the Assembly. Also, as a Kenai City Councilmember, I have been a part of the budget approval process and as a State of Alaska division director, I actively participated in the creation of the annual budget before presenting it to my administration supervisors (Commissioner’s office) and to the Alaska Legislative Finance sub-committees. Perhaps even more importantly, my practical budgeting experience comes as a homeowner that has leaned that you simply cannot spend more than you earn.
Hal Smalley, District 2: I have served on the Assembly before and I bring my record of always doing my homework. That includes seeking input from administration, department supervisors, the public and dialogue with assembly members. I understand the importance of budget history and projections for the future. I also have participated in creating priority project lists for both state and national funding. I have demonstrated a willingness to work with the rest of the assembly members to search out areas of common concern and interest to find solutions. We can only do this by working together.
2. Do you think the borough provides an adequate level of services?
Bannock: Adequate is an excellent description of the services provided by the KPB.
However, these services can be improved on! The Solid Waste Department is an area that can improved from ‘adequate’ to ‘OUTSTANDING!’ For decades, both the Central Peninsula Landfill as well as the many Transfer Station Site locations were available to the public seven days per week all year. Today, citing ‘budget-cuts’ both are now closed on Sundays for six months out of the year. Sadly, the cost to the 2017 budget still increased, even after cutting the service provided.
Smalley: With our three areas of responsibility the Borough has a big job: school funding, solid waste management and facilities, and construction and maintenance of roads. Service areas add complexity, but are proposed by residents in those areas and financed through self-imposed mill rates. At this point in time, I don’t see a need for increased services.
3. Has the borough struck the right balance between property tax, sales tax and other revenue sources? Are there changes you would propose?
Bannock: Both Sales &Property tax revenues are direct reflections of our local economy. Right now, while sales are down (and subsequent revenue derived) home and property values seem to mysteriously increase leading to greater revenue to the KPB. My goal as an Assembly member is to maintain consistency in the mil levy as well as sales tax rate and its respective parameters.
Smalley: Over the years, the borough has worked to provide the right balance, however; with the difficult times and financial shortages, the borough has had to borrow from its fund balance/budget reserve to balance the budget. This process is not sustainable. The borough needs to consider finding new revenues, looking to additional budget cuts/adjustments and even potentially combining some departments. Several factors will determine the amount of money needed to balance this coming year’s budget. Proposition 3 is a ballot measure which would change the sales tax cap – to $1000 from the existing $500 that was established in 1965, more than 50 years ago. This alone would generate around $3,000,000. If a single purchase is at the $1000 level, the sales tax increase would be an additional $30.00. Public input and current financial information will be critical to solving budget issues. The results of the vote on Proposition 3 will help us plan.
4. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the borough in the next three years?
Bannock: Annual budget deficit and more debt are my top concerns. Today, our budget will draw on saving to fill a $4.0 million hole. The good news is: we have that much in our saving account and, even after that draw, our ‘fund-balance’ remains at its recommended level (~$18.0 million). However, with Preposition 2 asking to borrow up to $5.0 million more and Proposition 3 asking voters to pay up to $5.0 million more in sales tax, I’m in this race to be elected with cost-cutting as a viable alternative.
Smalley: Economic Development: Tourism and small business development bolster our economy and can use strengthening. The borough also needs to continue addressing the issue of a North Slope gas pipeline with terminus on the peninsula.
Education Funding: Continuing discussions are important between the school district and the borough concerning our joint goal of providing high quality educational programming. As a borough, we need to look at potential additional revenues sources to help fund our share of educational costs, while the school district should be encouraged to continue to develop and implement innovative cost saving mechanisms. Our children are our present and future.
KPB Budget: The assembly has its work cut out for it as we work to find ways to balance the budget in an equitable and sustainable manner with the guidance of our citizens and administration. There are no simple fixes because each part of the budget is important to its shareholders.