As we approach the October 4th election, voters are getting plenty of opportunities to get to know the candidates better in all of the races.
I’ve spent time attending the majority of these events as well as visiting with residents one on one. In the borough assembly race representing Homer and Kachemak City, we have 3 qualified candidates, each bringing a unique skill set to the table. My leadership style is one of transparency, collaboration and efficiency while encouraging two way communications so our constituency is truly heard and represented at the borough level.
The issues that have been predominantly discussed are the natural gas pipeline extension, economic development, education and the Homer high school track.
The natural gas pipeline is critical to Homer and Kachemak City to reduce utility costs as well as the jobs created to get the lines to homes and businesses. The report given to Homer City Council last year by the Economic Development District listed the cost of utilities as the number one obstacle for new businesses coming to the peninsula. Therefore, it is critical that all of our peninsula governing bodies list the natural gas pipeline as the #1 priority for the CIP list this coming year.
Regarding our school district, with an aging population and enrollment decreasing, appropriate funding will be a challenge to meet the needs of our students. I support the assembly’s efforts for the state to have full forward three year funding so the school district can budget appropriately. The condition of the Homer high school track is deplorable and needs to have full community support in getting funding for replacement. The track also needs to be a priority for our CIP list this year.
An issue that’s continuing to appear in discussions for the assembly seat and the borough mayor race is ownership and governance of our hospitals. Last week during forums featuring the mayoral candidates, several of them stated they supported local ownership but suggested ideas such as merging boards or operating boards being elected or appointed by the mayor. Central and South Peninsula do a tremendous job in serving each of their communities and each has unique needs regarding their geographic location and citizen base. South Peninsula Hospital must maintain their independence to ensure decision making stays at the local level. SPH’s operating board and service area board have a great relationship based on cooperation, communication and confidence that each body is looking out for the patient needs of our local community while always being cognizant of our fiduciary responsibilities. The idea of the operating board for either hospital being appointed by the mayor is ludicrous to me. This process makes board appointments political and will rule out many qualified board members. South Peninsula Hospital’s operating board takes great care in considering board makeup, the broad range of skill sets necessary for balance on the board while making sure the selection process is inclusive for our citizens unlike the appointment process through borough administration.
When first elected to the assembly four years ago, I did not anticipate the amount of time that would be devoted to budget matters. For the last three years, I have been appointed to be chair of the finance committee, which entailed even more work with the budget.
My first two years of budgets were consumed with the school district budget battle cry of “fund to the cap” (meaning the maximum allowed). I was not comfortable with this approach to deciding funding for schools, as I felt it should be based on need for local effort, rather than an entitlement.
Two budgets ago, I found the district was stashing unbudgeted money and appeared to be receiving more money than they could use. This led to a reduction in funding for the district for the last two years. Without this reduction, we would been unable to maintain our fund balance without raising taxes.
For FY 2012, I pushed for adopting the school district budget in early March instead of May. The assembly and district had the smoothest budget process in recent memory, avoiding most of the angst inducing school district pink slips of past years. I hope to make further improvements in the process.
There has been much discussion of funding for the “non-departmentals”, meaning the funding for agencies outside of borough government. The actual budget category of non-departmental includes insurance, the school district, post secondary education, the land trust fund, solid waste, equipment replacement and more. So we should really be speaking of the funds which have been devoted to economic development. According to state statute, a defined function of a second class borough like ours is the authority to support economic development.
Support for business in the borough can take many forms. Low and stable tax rates, limited rules from local government, and support for new and established businesses. To date that support has been expressed by funding the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council peninsula promotion, the Economic Development District and the Small Business Development Center. Together these items comprise about .0067% of the borough budget.
We need to continue and even expand our efforts to support local business, but we need to do it without impact to property taxes or the fund balance. This is why I have proposed asking the voters if they will approve a small sales tax to support expanding this effort. No business would respond to uncertain economic conditions by taking down their sign and turning off the OPEN sign. The borough should not act that way either.
I feel it has been a great privilege for me to represent District 8 on the borough assembly for the last four years. This election will determine who represents you for the coming year. Regardless of the outcome of this election, I thank everyone for having elected me twice and for the support and encouragement given me.
Recently, I attended a Mayoral forum at the Tustumena Elementary School at which there were perhaps a dozen people in attendance and if you included the candidates there may have been two-dozen. Earlier the same day there was a Mayoral forum near Homer and there were also less then a dozen people in attendance. One thing for sure is that one of the candidates is going to be our future Borough Mayor. These forums are opportunities that I believe as citizens is part of our civic duty to attend because we need to network from within our respective communities to learn about and to build relationships with our future leaders.
Listening to the Mayoral candidates did not just let me know more about the background and qualifications of each candidate but it also gave me, as a community leader myself, ideas on how to best serve our communities. Personally you might be frustrated with local, Borough, State and Federal politics and this is dangerous to our future. As a community leader it is up to me to let you know that your voice will be heard and to follow your communication up with action on your behalf. I encourage you to find the tenacity that it takes to ensure that your community leaders know what matters to you or to join a community action group.
Two examples of local groups reaching out to increase public awareness are the Alaska Charter Association with efforts to communicate key issues surrounding the proposed “Catch Sharing Plan” and Coach Bill Steyer and the “Save the Track” community action group. In both cases we have examples of a group of citizens that have banded together to communicate collectively to elected officials. Are we as community leaders listening?
Overcoming voter apathy is a two-way street. Community leaders need to prove to you that we are listening. An area that I would like to encourage further discussion on is the long-term decisions made at the Borough level and the costs associated with those decisions. For example, I would like to have an open dialog on potential ways to reduce the amount of trash sent to transfer stations from Homer, which is then hauled 84 miles to the central peninsula landfill. I know of several communities faced with the same issues and they found creative new programs to effectively deal with waste in an environmentally friendly way, and it actually initiated several new micro-businesses. There are always ways to make improvements to a situation; we just need to be open to looking at complementary options.
You may contact me regarding any issue by meeting with me in person, or through my website at www.bryanzak.com. As many of you already know I will listen to you and I will advocate for your concerns. Listening to you and taking action for you comes with the responsibility of providing leadership. Please remember to Vote on October 4th.