Q&A: Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly candidates

  • Tuesday, September 27, 2016 10:31pm
  • Opinion

1. Should the borough adopt health care powers?

Dale Bagley, District 4/Soldotna: I think the Clarion is really asking “should the Central Peninsula Service Area be combined with the South Peninsula Service Area?” I don’t think Homer is excited about it because they believe they will lose control of their hospital and I don’t think the voters in the Central Peninsula area are going to be happy about taking on South Peninsula’s debt and an increased mill rate when currently there is none. I am willing to let the voters decide this issue if it should ever be on a ballot.

Debbie Cary, District 7/Kasilof: The Kenai Peninsula Borough should explore the option of adopting Health Care Powers in an effort to streamline information and facilitate an integrated network of sharing services and information. This should be done in small steps in order to ensure a smooth transition if it is done. The Health Care Task Force recently identified major areas of gaps within our communities. In order to address many of these areas we need a cohesive governing body to oversee the implementation of new strategies. It is essential to the Health Care in our borough for hospitals to be able to collaborate with each other to provide the best medical needs of the entire borough. A single service area would also address some of the disparity in mil rates from one service area to another. The cost of health care within our borough and state is one of the largest stumbling blocks to good health care and the budget. While we are moving toward a global payment system which emphasizes preventive medicine we should also move toward an integrated system of sharing information, funds, equipment and resources.

Paul Fischer, District 7/Kasilof: Without a definitive plan I cannot support the borough adopting health care powers at this time.

Presently there is too much speculation as to what powers would be included, i.e./comprehensive emergency medical services (EMS), and building a detox center. A major concern will be how to merge the debts and assets of each service area and keeping it under local control…

Health costs have been growing faster than other sectors of the economy. As this trend continues the cost could soon exceed the public’s ability or willingness to pay.

I will be looking forward to seeing the final recommendations of the Health Care Task Force at their next meeting

Bill Holt, District 7/Kasilof: Health care is “broken” across the nation and costs are a major problem for the borough government and its residents. I support the efforts of the mayor’s health care task force, but with two borough hospital service areas, complicated boundaries, no coverage in many areas, and uncertainty at both the state and federal level, I would not support the KPB adopting health care powers at this time. I am very interested in working on health care solutions if elected.

2. What, if anything, would you change in the borough’s budget?

Bagley: It was a lot of compromise and change this year and I am satisfied with the end result.

Cary: There is an absolute need at this time to reduce cost to the annual budget across the board. As we proceed with the next year’s budget it is crucial to go in with open eyes and realize just because we have always funded it doesn’t mean we are going to continue to fund it. There has to be a balance between actual need and want. Duplication of services within Non-Departmental budget items needs to be considered individually. One again Health Care is a huge issue within our Borough and we need to find a way to cut health care spending. If one area is expected to do with less all areas should be expected to do with less. We all need to be willing to understand the financial crisis OUR state is in and the potential ramification to the Borough revenues. We need to be a part of the solution as oppose to being part of the problem.

Fischer: Fact, State and Local Government is heavily dependent on the oil industry for revenues. Fact, the oil industry is in decline. Fact, many of the oil and gas properties that pay for government are now well past their projected life expectancies. Fact, looking into the future there is nothing on the horizon to replace lost oil jobs and revenues. To think government can continue sending at current levels is naïve, foolish and irresponsible. We can ignore the facts or be proactive in our approach to borough spending. We must look at what our needs are and make sure these services are being delivered in the most cost effective way possible. I will look at all possible solutions to each problem and choose the best course of action to be taken.

I would have cut the $ 230,000 for assembly health care from the current budget.

Holt: There are no major changes that I support in the borough’s budget at this time. I am not in favor of expanding borough programs and all non-departmentals need to be assessed on an annual basis. The level of school funding for the new fiscal year will be determined after the state legislature provides it’s funding allocation. It is expected that the state funding for education will be severely reduced this year. If this comes to pass the borough does not have the capacity to make up the shortfall and there will have to be hard choices made to continue providing the best possible education for our children.

3. Has the borough struck the right balance between property tax, sales tax and other revenue sources?

Bagley: It is important that we have a balance tax base and the taxes are not on the backs of one segment of society. I am satisfied with the balance.

Cary: No, the borough has not struck the right balance between property tax, sales tax and other revenue sources. If the borough had we would not be looking at potential cuts to all services.

Fischer: Sales tax is a good indicator of the local economy. The public tend to spend more in a thriving economy and less in a weak economy. Sales tax revenues can only be changed by personal spending, tax rate change, or increased/decreased limits on taxation. Property tax revenues are based on the value of property and the mill levy. This variable is changed by the borough each year through property value assessments and ultimately by the mil levy to fund the budget. The third major variable has been money received from the state for school bond payments, borough and school district employee retirement plan contributions, public school funding and, grants. With the present deficit the state is unlikely to continue contributing at the current level. The fourth variable is borough spending. The ratio can be changed if needed by increasing/decreasing any of the variables or a combination of them all.

Holt: Yes! The balance of property taxes and sales tax is an equitable way to balance the fiscal needs of the borough. The borough has a very low mil rate compared to the Alaska cities that do not have a sales tax. Dedicating the sales tax to schools reduces the need to provide an excessive amount of property taxes for school district operations. The sales tax captures funds from visitors that would not be available otherwise. The current tax structure fairly spreads out the burden of providing borough services.

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

Bagley: Dwindling revenues from the State are going to cause impacts. When the price of oil goes up and/or the State of Alaska finds other sources of revenue the State will then be spending funds on all the things they are currently cutting and deferring. I think it will be a while before the Borough sees significant revenues from the State of Alaska. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Administration and Assembly have made some changes to reduce Borough Government including combining two departments and closing the landfill on Sundays, but some of the lost revenue will be passed on to Kenai Peninsula residents. We have two ballot propositions that could help close that gap, if the voters are willing and if they are not willing we will look to other solutions.

Cary: The biggest challenges facing the borough over the next three years, in my opinion, are the decline in revenues, due in part to the low cost of oil, but also with the decrease in population, the increase in senior population and the decrease in new investment in our area. The combination of these factors have opened the door to a financial crisis within the borough.

The fledgling marijuana industry is going to be a challenge, do we want marijuana within our cities and boroughs? How are we going to identify “Buzz” driving? How do you strike a balance with sales, consumption, public safety and research? How do you put laws in place to protect both the industry and the people if it is going to remain? At this point there are a lot of unanswered questions and I would hope to be part of the solution on answering the questions.

How do you attract more industry and people to the area? The Kenai Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places in the world and we need to market its strengths. We need to attract new industries and companies that are willing to hire local.

Fischer: Recognizing and planning for loss of revenue from the State. In addition, the effect a shrinking oil industry is having on the local economy. Together these factors could place a much higher tax burden on the public. The new economic reality is government may be forced to make adjustments to services provided and the cost for those services. As a representative of the people, assembly members must scrutinize each budget item closely to see if the service provided is really needed and if there is a more cost effective way to provide the service. A good leader will recognize the reality of our current situation and deal with it in a deliberative and practical way. There must be a realistic vision for the future success of our community. “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. Not the recipe for good government.

I am Paul Fischer and I am asking for your vote on October 4th.

Holt: Declining state revenues will be the biggest challenge facing the borough in the next three years. The Borough will feel the pinch with the lack of state provided municipal revenue funds, community revenue sharing funds, the reduction in state support for bonded capital projects, the on-behalf payments for PERS and TERS losses and the reduction of funding for schools. The largest part of the boroughs budget is dedicated to schools but the largest portion of the schools budget is provided by the state. If the state chooses to reduce school funding as predicted it will put an enormous strain on the school district as well as the borough.

Health care, the gas line and gas line support facilities, commercial fishing, sport fishing, tourism and other resource development will all be important issues for the next three years and I look forward to working on each problem as it comes up.

5. How can voters contact you?

Wayne Ogle, District 3/Nikiski: I can be reached on my cell phone: 907-690-1308. My email is: wayne.ogle@yahoo.com or wogle@kpb.us. Home address: 50160 Birch Grove Street Kenai, AK 99611

Bagley: Cell phone, 398-1865; Email, dale@redoubtrealty.com

Cary: The voters can email me at debbiecary@live.com or www.votedebbiecary.com. You can write to me at Debbie Cary, P.O. Box 39317, Ninilchik, Alaska 99639, or by phone at 907 398-8308. I am always available to listen to your comments and concerns.

Fischer: My mailing address is: P.O. Box 889, Kasilof, AK 99610. My e-mail is: akawards@gmail.com, My home phone is 262-9269. My cell phone is 252-2705, My FAX is 262-4902, You can also stop me out and about around town.

Holt: The best way to contact me is at bill.t.holt@gmail.com or 907-283-7260. I look forward to hearing from you.

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