Q&A: South Peninsula assembly candidates share views

  • Wednesday, September 30, 2015 7:33pm
  • Opinion

1. Has the borough struck the proper balance between sales tax and property tax? Are changes to the tax structure needed?

Willy Dunne: The Borough currently operates on revenue obtained roughly 1/3 from property taxes, 1/3 from sales taxes and 1/3 from other sources. Voters approved a Borough sales tax of up to 3% and for many years the rate stood at 2%. About 10 years ago Assembly approved an increase to 3% and decreased property tax mill rates from 5.5 to 4.5 mills.

I believe the current balance between sales and property tax rates is equitable and that the ongoing review of Borough tax structures will lead to further fine tuning. Any major changes to the tax code should occur only with the approval of the voters. Expenditure of tax revenue must be always be accompanied by good communication, oversight and accountability.

Dawson Slaughter: There is a good balance now between the two revenue sources. The current tax structure has been in place for many years. A comprehensive review could reveal if changes are needed. Events and situations can change over 50 years. What worked well in the 60’s may not fit the current reality, or be the best pathway to the future. I will come to the assembly with a new perspective and be willing to explore all options for improving the tax structure.

2. What role should the assembly play in addressing health care issues?

Dunne: The Borough Health Care Task Force is working diligently to provide an in depth look at the complex issues of health care. The voters have consistently supported the Borough ownership and oversight of our hospitals in the southern and central Peninsula and my view is that these hospitals provide an essential service to our residents and visitors alike.

I look forward to working with the Health Care Task Force and Borough Administration on enacting cost saving measures while providing essential health care services.

Slaughter: The fundamental issue is whether the borough should remain in the healthcare business. When our hospitals were originally built many years ago, there was a need not being adequately addressed by the private sector. Over time that situation may have changed. An in depth study will reveal if the borough should continue being in the healthcare business, or if our hospitals should be sold to the private sector. The assembly should take a proactive role in making this decision after a thorough and deliberative study. Am I advocating for the sale of our hospitals? At this time the answer is no, but that is one important issue that should be objectively explored for the future of better healthcare in the borough.

3. With the state’s fiscal crisis in mind, what are your funding priorities for the borough?

Dunne: The core services provided by the Kenai Peninsula Borough – roads, schools, hospitals, emergency services and solid waste – are all very important to the residents and need to be efficiently funded and managed. Financial support from the State of Alaska will likely continue to drop over the next few years and that will be a major challenge to address. We will need to respond intelligently and thoughtfully to the new fiscal climate.

Slaughter: I think everyone should by now be aware of the Alaska fiscal crisis. Examples of reduced state spending are numerous and likely to continue into the near future. This will affect the borough which is heavily reliant on state spending to pay school bonds, repair roads, and help fund many of the services we currently enjoy.

The primary functions of this borough include schools, solid waste, roads, hospitals and public safety. We must make sure these are operating at the highest level of efficiency. We may also consider selling some of these functions to the private sector. Only with a thoughtful study of “needs” versus “wants” can we be sure that tax dollars are being spent for the maximum benefit of all citizens.

4. What approach should the borough take to regulating marijuana?

Dunne: In 2014 the voters in Alaska chose to have marijuana regulated like alcohol. The State is currently developing regulations and the Borough Marijuana Task Force is assessing the process. When the Alaska Marijuana Control Board releases the final regulations in November, we will have the information necessary to formulate a Borough plan. There will certainly be opportunities for business development and revenue to the Borough. At the same time, we will need to actively listen to the residents of each Borough community and retain as much local control as allowed under State regulations. Balancing business opportunity, personal freedom and protection of underage residents will be a formidable task, but we are up for the challenge.

Slaughter: Until the state has fully implemented regulations, it will be difficult to determine whether there will be problems within the borough. I think we need to see how this issue unfolds before making any new borough code. Without police powers, the borough is not really in a position to implement new regulations of marijuana. If problems do arise, the assembly can lobby for changes to state statutes that would then be enforced by the troopers.

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