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

Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveils proposals to offer public school teachers annual retention bonuses and enact policies restricting discussion of sex and gender in education during a news conference in Anchorage. (Screenshot)
Opinion: As a father and a grandfather, I believe the governor’s proposed laws are anti-family

Now, the discrimination sword is pointing to our gay and transgender friends and families.

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President Nathan Erfurth works in his office on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Now is the time to invest in Kenai Peninsula students

Parents, educators and community members addressed the potential budget cuts with a clear message.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: An accurate portrayal of parental rights isn’t controversial

Affirming and defining parental rights is a matter of respect for the relationship between parent and child

Opinion: When the state values bigotry over the lives of queer kids

It has been a long, difficult week for queer and trans Alaskans like me.

Dr. Sarah Spencer. (Photo by Maureen Todd and courtesy of Dr. Sarah Spencer)
Voices of the Peninsula: Let’s bring opioid addiction treatment to the Alaskans who need it most

This incredibly effective and safe medication has the potential to dramatically increase access to treatment

Unsplash / Louis Velazquez
Opinion: Fish, family and freedom… from Big Oil

“Ultimate investment in the status quo” is not what I voted for.

An orphaned moose calf reared by the author is seen in 1970. (Stephen F. Stringham/courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: Maximizing moose productivity on the Kenai Peninsula

Maximum isn’t necessarily optimum, as cattle ranchers learned long ago.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The time has come to stop Eastman’s willful and wanton damage

God in the Bible makes it clear that we are to care for the vulnerable among us.

Caribou graze on the greening tundra of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska in June, 2001. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: AIDEA’s $20 million-and-growing investment looks like a bad bet

Not producing in ANWR could probably generate a lot of money for Alaska.

Most Read