Q&A: Budget a focus for District 1 candidates

  • Tuesday, September 26, 2017 8:49pm
  • Opinion

Dan Castimore and Brent Hibbert are running for the Assembly District 1-Kalifornsky seat. Kate Veh will appear on the ballot but has withdrawn from the race.

1. What experience will you draw on in evaluating the borough’s $80 million budget?

Dan Castimore, District 1: The bulk of the Borough budget is comprised of the money that goes to education. For the last 4 years, my service on the School Board makes me uniquely qualified to evaluate this portion of the budget. I have a thorough understanding of the State’s education foundation formula, and I understand how changes in state funding will affect the borough’s contribution. In addition, I have helped to prepare the budget for the City of Kenai for the last 6 years. This requires a thorough understanding of government finances. Further, as a long time participant in the PERS system, I understand the numerous tiers of the borough’s retirement system.

Brent Hibbert, District 1: Having been a successful business owner for over 25 years I will bring business experience to the Assembly. For the last 9 months I have been the Finance Committee Chair and have learned a lot about our Borough Business.

2. Do you think the borough provides an adequate level of services?

Castimore: I do think the borough provides an adequate level of services, whether it be the landfill, maintaining the schools, or providing funding for senior services. I do think that like all businesses there is room for improvement. Currently 90% of the revenue for the landfill comes from tax dollars, with only 10% coming from commercial customers. In the most recent budget the Assembly decided to close the landfill on Sunday to save money. Most of the complaints are based on this decision. As the landfill is funded with taxes, it should be open when it is convenient for the public. I would like to see the closure changed to a weekday. I would also point out that while some claim that this change resulted in higher costs, upon careful examination of the budget it is clear that the increase in costs this year was to pay for an expansion.

Hibbert: Yes, but we need to continually nurture our economic growth and development by supporting the Oil, Gas and Mining Industry, as well as Fishing, and Tourism.

3. Has the borough struck the right balance between property tax, sales tax and other revenue sources? Are there changes you would propose?

Castimore: I believe that people need to pay for the services they want. I think that tax revenue should be evenly split between sales and property tax. Currently property tax accounts for 50%, sales tax is 39%, with the balance coming from other sources. This means that people that live in the borough pay more in taxes than people who visit. This is in stark contrast to the cities on the peninsula who all generate substantially more sales tax than property tax. I support lifting the sales tax cap from $500 to $1000. I also support a bed tax, although it would need to replace the sales tax already charged to hotels. As someone who lives on, and loves the Kenai Peninsula I think that visitors should pay a greater share.

Hibbert: This year we used $4 million out of savings to fund schools.

Why:

1. Tax on non-prepared foods went from 12 months to 3 months costing $3.1 million loss in sale tax.

2. Revenue Sharing from the state decreased $2 million.

3. Personal property tax exemption increased from $20,000 to $50,000 costing the Borough $1 million in property tax.

We cannot continue operating successfully unless we find new ways to generate revenue sources.

4. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the borough in the next three years?

Castimore: I think that the biggest challenge the borough is facing is our changing economy. For most of my life everything on the Peninsula was funded by oil revenue. From the roads, to the schools, and everything else. Most of the jobs came from the oil industry, and the commercial jobs created as a result. In the last decade we have seen Agrium and Conoco Phillips close their plants in Nikiski. Service companies such as CH2M-Hill have shuttered operations. When I drive to Nikiski, it is hardly recognizable from 20 years ago.

In the future we will need to find a new source of jobs. Perhaps this will come in the form of an LNG pipeline, or maybe Agrium will reopen. However, for the near future, things are going to be tough. The borough will need to look at reducing expenses, and maximizing the value of what is offered.

Hibbert: Budget, School funding, declining revenue sharing and declining school enrolment.

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