1. What is the most important role of an assembly member? What tops your to-do list?
District 1 — Kalifornsky
Mike Winegarden: It’s important to understand that a position like this is for the people. To help the Borough move forward in a direction that will expand and grow the Peninsula logically and soundly.
Kelly Wolf: I believe an elected official must listen first to his/her constituents, obtain as much information about important the issues, and then have the back bone to vote the will of people. This may not always make all parties happy, but an elected official must not submit to the will of special interest. An elected official is a role model of the community as well, and thus I believe he/she must always conduct themselves in a professional manner. What are my top to-do lists?
1) Repeal the anadromous habitat ordinance!
2) Work with all interested parties (not just the school district)to bring a vibrant vocational program that teaches our high school youth vocational trades.
3) Work to ensure jobs here on the Kenai, go to residents of the Kenai Peninsula.
4) See what can be done to make the Borough Assembly committee process more open to all the community through streaming it on the internet, Much like the legislature does.
5) Work to ensure that the short sightedness of ADF&G restrictions placed on our Commercial fishing industry both in Cook Inlet and in river does not happen again. While brining to light the root purpose or agenda which created this economic disaster.
6) We are a community of people and businesses here on the Kenai and as such when special interests call our community dangerous as they have in the past I will not back down from them, because to call my friends and neighbors a danger to others is offensive and respectful to all of us.
District 2 — Kenai
Christine Hutchison: The most important role is to represent the Kenai District primarily and to be familiar with and watch out for the overall good of the borough. Also, it is important for assembly member to understand how the borough assembly sets the general direction and approves the budget, including the day to day management by the mayor. Assembly members need to be willing to scrutinize ordinances and resolutions for fiscal sustainability and legitimate function of the assembly. Major to do’s would be close circuit TV or web streaming/video broadcast especially considering the size and geographic diversity of the borough; mail in voting should be explored for increased voter participation and possible cost reduction; and viable alternatives for solid waste disposal seeking revenue neutral options.
Hal Smalley: The job borough of assembly member requires gathering information and making decisions. I am elected to represent and to act for my constituents. For the past four years, I’ve listened to the people I directly represent, in public testimony, in casual conversations. I’ve heard from folks outside my direct constituency. I’ve researched the issues and then made decisions which I consider to best represent our interests. It’s a continual challenge because often the right thing to do isn’t easy, and doing what is easy isn’t always right. Decisions reached at an Assembly meeting can’t just represent the people who come to the meeting to testify or the most vocal. Decision making is a much larger process. The budget process requires working with the administration and other assembly members, as well as with the public. My job is to represent every resident regardless of age or voting status. I take this role very seriously, while knowing that it is impossible to please everyone.
District 6 — East Peninsula
Sue McClure: I feel that the role of an assembly member is to act as the people’s representative/ interface with the borough government. I field questions and problems from my constituents and either refer them to the proper department/administrator or make the contact myself, in order to resolve questions or problems. I intend to spend the next three years continuing to act in that capacity. I have no particular agenda other than to keep people informed and educated and to act as their representative.
2. What are your top budget priorities? If you had to cut the borough budget, where would you start?
Winegarden: Top priorities are to see and make things operate smoothly with the budget and the people that it has. I’m not a budget slasher, but do not have a problem making changes if it is necessary.
Wolf: Keep “OUR” government from expanding its growth.
If I had to cut borough budget. Where would I start? Non-borough agency funding!! Nonprofit organizations, while many are very good at what they do, they should not be a line item within our government budget. When government gets involved, nonprofit organizations often lose sight of their original purpose. I believe that if government has a project that can be completed more efficiently by partnering with a nonprofit organization, then a partnership could be considered by the borough assembly. I do not believe in earmarking taxpayer funds for nonprofit purposes, as this creates special-interest influence.
Hutchison: Being the second largest budget item, solid waste disposal would be a good starting place in reducing the budget and addresses the growing concerns of sustainable environmental practices. Exploration should be undertaken to find revenue neutral alternatives and /or revenue generating options for solid waste disposal.
Smalley: As a second class borough, our primary responsibilities are funding for Education, Solid Waste, Planning and Roads. Solid Waste and Roads are not very “sexy” topics, but they impact each of us every day. Education is the link to the present and to the future. The Borough budget has reflected about a 2% increase over the last few years with no increase to the mill rate. In making budget decisions, I try to take into consideration the voices of all residents. I support keeping the mill rate low and evaluating each year’s budget based on its merit. In addition to our top priorities, residents have assumed numerous fiscal responsibilities by forming local service areas and funding them through a self-imposed mill increase.
McClure: My top budget priority is funding schools so that they can continue to produce great students. Schools, solid waste, and road maintenance are the primary areas in which the borough government affects the people. If there can be cuts, I feel that any unnecessary positions, at any level, should be eliminated.
3. What, if any, changes would you like to see in the borough’s tax structure?
Winegarden: I do not see any changes needed to the tax structure at this time...
Wolf: This I need to review. However, I think; the borough is profiting greatly on the high price of gasoline? I would like to see this reviewed and evaluate an adjustment to this?
Hutchison: The tax structure needs to be maintained at a point where the KPB obligations and services are met. At the same time the tax structure needs to foster business development of all kinds on the peninsula.
Smalley: We currently have one of the lowest property mill rates in the state. Our borough also allows more than a dozen different forms of property tax exemptions (senior citizens, veterans etc) for our residents, more than other boroughs in the state. The current tax structure enables us to meet the critical needs that are mandated under our Second Class Borough Status and that ensure a healthy environment. Solid Waste: Our borough continues to work to protect our property from contamination. There is no charge for residential disposal at the transfer sites or landfill. Education: We are charged with funding education in order to meet the needs of our children, creating a well-educated population who will be prepared for the future. The City of Kenai has only one service area, Central Peninsula Hospital, with no mill rate fee.
McClure: I do not want a mill rate increase, or a sales tax increase. At this time, we are doing okay. I would hope that we could maintain a level income/needs balance at this level.
4. What is the borough’s greatest strength? What is the borough’s greatest challenge? What would you do to build on those strengths and tackle the challenges?
Winegarden: Our economic strengths fall in line with our diversities. Oil and gas, tourism, commercial fishing and the people that work these industries. All of these items have seen upward trends and downward cycles. To look at these industries with a “cookie cutter” approach to help build them, does not work. All industries and situations deserve a case by case resolution. And I am ready to look at and help...
Wolf: I think it’s the people!! There is no place better to raise a family than the Kenai Peninsula! Can we make it best? “YES” When I came the Kenai in 1975, the Kenai had many awesome opportunities. Today as a nation things look depressing for many, especially for our youth. Suicide among teens is the highest here in Alaska than any other place in America. Our dropout rate on the Kenai among high-school students is near 14%, national statics show 31% of all high School graduates will not attend college, while our skilled labor force is so depleted that employers must look outside of Alaska for trade’s labor. I believe our children are our most important natural resource we have. The Kenai Peninsula’s economic future and our infrastructure our dependent on having a healthy skilled work force. I will work and do my part and work with all interested parties to see job’s growth in the private sector and accountability is held to its highest level in our borough government. I believe this is one of the duties an elected official assumes when elected.
Hutchison: The people of the peninsula and the diversity of the abundant natural resources are the primary strengths. Additionally, the natural beauty of the peninsula is a serious attraction to visitors from around the world. One of the challenges of the borough is the responsible development of our natural resources; and another is the challenge of getting the best education for our children without basing it solely on the dollars spent per child.
Smalley: The people and the natural setting are what drew us here and continue to be the strengths. Our residents, our resources, both renewable and non-renewable, give us an advantage over so many places, but also provide a challenge and enormous responsibility. We struggle with how to keep a healthy balance. We need to continually focus on the present with an eye to the future and the effect of today’s decisions on next generations. A strong education system including our Kenai Peninsula College is a strength that can help us with the challenge of providing good paying sustainable jobs. Another challenge of the borough is its geography and the vastness and diversity of the peninsula, from the cities to tiny village settings, encompassing more than 25,000 square miles. As a city guy, sometimes I need to be reminded of needs and concerns of other areas of the borough.
McClure: The borough’s greatest strength is the quality of the people that live here in this beautiful land, filled with natural resources. The challenge is to balance the needs of the people and businesses with the development and protection of those resources. A perfect example of this balance is the issue of anadromous stream protection. I am hoping for a fair resolution to this issue in the near future.