Q&A: District 5 candidate shares views on budget, services

  • Tuesday, September 26, 2017 9:45am
  • Opinion

Leslie Morton and Norm Blakeley are running for the Borough Assembly District 5/Sterling-Funny River seat. Blakeley declined to participate in the Clarion’s questionnaire.

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

Leslie Morton, District 5: For 14 years, I was on the governing board of the Kenai Watershed Forum, a successful nonpartisan and nonprofit organization that handles an annual budget of a million dollars or more. I served as both the board president and on the board’s finance committee. In my past career as a manager for the U.S. Navy on Guam, I was responsible for a $2.3 million annual budget to address natural resource issues. Early in my career as a Federal employee in Washington D.C., I served on the Interior Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee (chaired by Senator Ted Stevens).

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

Morton: In a very general sense, ‘yes’. The most important services that KPB provides are our schools, hospital, emergency services, road maintenance, and solid waste management, which combined account for three-quarters of our budget. However, in the current climate of fiscal deficits at state and borough levels, some services critical for small segments of the population are not being met well. For example, funding is poor for those with problems stemming from mental health or substance abuse, and for rural residents in need of public transportation. Certain borough districts may also disproportionately suffer. For example, when the borough property tax exemption increased from $20K to $50K, the $2.7 million loss in revenue resulted in the Funny River community in District 5 losing full-time coverage of fire protection through Central Emergency Services. To make matters worse, the ambulance now has to come from Soldotna to retrieve those in need of emergency health care.

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

Morton: Given that the current borough budget deficit is $4 million, the answer is ‘no’. This deficit isn’t due to poor management, but because of declining revenue from the borough’s sales tax (lower fuel prices) and the State of Alaska’s contributions to our operational and capital funds. In the near future, to balance the existing deficit, we will either have to cut services even deeper or find a reasonable way to increase revenue. Increasing the cap on sales tax from $500 to $1000 would contribute $3 million to our budget. We could slightly increase the property mil rate, as the current mil rate that specifically supports CES is the lowest in 6 years. The assembly unfortunately tabled discussion on the bed tax that would have primarily targeted tourists and not residents. Over the long haul, however, I do not advocate funding our budget through increased taxes. Rather, I will promote diversification of small business (including agriculture) and seek to make borough government more efficient.

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

Morton: Needless to say, budget, budget, and budget. We need to balance our desire for services in an era of declining local and state revenues. I believe our budget and what we choose to fund is a reflection of our values as a community. The top of my list, based on my discussions with residents in District 5, are ensuring reasonable funding for education, health care, and safety. Education is about keeping good teachers, reasonable teacher-to-student ratios, and maintaining our existing facilities. Developing health care issues stem from the opioid epidemic and an aging demographic. Community safety means providing reasonable road maintenance and supporting emergency services and health care. The thee big issues in District 5, which I hope to serve, are proposed annexation by the City of Soldotna (which I oppose), the developing marijuana industry (which I support), and emergency services (which I will work to improve).

More in Opinion

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Break the cycle of failure, debt in 2022

Today, all Americans are coerced, embarrassed or otherwise influenced into one of two old political parties

A sign designates a vote center during the recent municipal election. The center offered a spot for voters to drop off ballots or fill a ballot out in person. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The failure of mail-in voting

The argument that mail-in balloting increases voter participation never impressed me

Charlie Franz.
Point of View: Election integrity is not anti-democratic

The federalization of elections by the Freedom to Vote Act infringes on the constitutional right of states to regulate elections.

Snow blows off Mt. Roberts high above the Thane avalanche chute, where an avalanche blew across the road during a major snowstorm. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)
An Alaska winter of discontent

It’s been a hard winter throughout the state.

A Uncruise Adventures cruise ship, with a fleet of kayaks in the water behind it, in the Tongass National Forest. Uncruise, a boutique local cruise ship operator, has been vocal about the importance of the intact Tongass National Forest, or SeaBank, to its business. (Photo by Ben Hamilton/courtesy Salmon State)
Alaska Voices: The dividends paid by Southeast Alaska’s ‘Seabank’ are the state’s untold secrets

Southeast Alaska’s natural capital produces economic outputs from the seafood and visitor products industries worth several billion dollars a year

teaser
Opinion: The pulse of fealty

Let’s be honest. Trump’s demands go beyond his one stated condition.

Former Gov. Frank Murkowski speaks on a range of subjects during an interview with the Juneau Empire in May 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Alaska Voices: Permanent fund integrity in peril?

Alaskans need to be kept informed of what the trustees are doing with their money.

A cast member holds up a cue card in Soldotna High School’s production of "Annie" on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Is theater dead?

“It will not be an easy task, performing CPR on this theater, but imagine the joy that you could bring to the students.”

Bjørn Olson (Photo provided)
Point of View: Homer Drawdown moves forward with climate-change solutions

Two years ago, a small group of concerned citizens decided to use this book as a guiding document

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21 in Kenai, Alaska.
Voices of the Peninsula: Fight for democracy

When the Insurrection occurred on Jan. 6, 2021, it was a direct attack on our democratic rule of law.

Former Alaska legislator and gubernatorial candidate Les Gara is seen in this undated photo. (courtesy photo)
Alaska’s great oil giveway

We can do better than giving away billions in oil company subsidies