Citizens voice irritations: ACT polls public looking for borough hot buttons and burrs

Voices of the Peninsula

Posted: Thursday, June 07, 2007

Starting in February, the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers held ice cream socials throughout the borough, visiting Kasilof, Nikiski, Moose Pass, Ninilchik, Sterling, Anchor Point, Seward and Homer. At every venue we solicited the ideas of our fellow borough neighbors. We asked about folks’ hot buttons — the burrs under their saddles, so to speak.

Selected here are suggestions within the domain of the borough assembly, making them easier to implement. If you see a good idea, ask a few assembly persons to introduce it as an ordinance.

1) Sell the Central Peninsula Hospital and Heritage Place. The hospital would be better for taxpayers if it is off the tax dole and on the tax roll. Taxpayers would save money by eliminating a service area and its mill rate. Putting the hospital on the tax rolls would generate funds for mandated functions of a second class borough, such as schools. When the hospital purchased Heritage Place last year, the sellers indicated all their other holdings were hospitals with a nursing home, since that could be a lucrative combination. They may be an interested buyer, or there may be others now attracted to our asset.

2) Repeal the borough’s fund balance policy. Families should have savings accounts and emergency funds. A government is not a family. Government has the unique ability to raise income by the power of taxation. When the borough has fund balances, it indicates that citizens have been overtaxed beyond what the government actually requires to function.

3) Mandate an independent comprehensive efficiency audit of the borough and the school district with independent public oversight to discourage a rubber-stamp approach. Require the borough and school district to implement recommendations of the audit.

4) Have the assembly and the school board opt out of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) and health care package. Beyond saving bunches of money, it would negate a conflict of interest during contract negotiations. PERS is a huge bill to be paid, and any legal method to reduce it should be explored.

5) Impose term limits on the mayor, assembly and school board. By limiting these elected positions to two three-year terms, there will be a constant influx of new faces and ideas. When there is a vacancy, folks will step up to the plate and run, as seen by the recent example of Dan Chay’s successor. Running against an incumbent, however, can discourage participation. It is in the borough’s best interests to spread citizen participation out to as many different individuals as possible.

6) Institute instant run-off voting for the mayoral race. Run-offs are standard in recent races, yet turn-out for the final election is appallingly tiny. Instant run-off voting would accomplish the run-off at the same time as the original vote if no candidate receives 50 percent. Money is saved, voter participation improved, and a decisive, quick resolution for the mayor’s race insured.

7) Change the borough mayor position to a ceremonial position with a pay rate commensurate with an assembly position. Add a professional manager position with the electorate asked for a vote of confidence every two years.

8) Change membership on the Board of Equalization to an elected position. There would be less incentive to please the folks that appointed them.

9) Change the borough attorney to an elected position. The attorney now serves at the pleasure of the assembly. There would be less incentive to please the mayor and the assembly if the attorney had the independence to provide advice without jeopardizing continued employment. The people of this borough also deserve to have adequate legal representation protecting the public’s interest.

10) Hold municipal elections on the same day as state/federal elections. Voter participation would increase, and voter confusion would decrease.

Vicki Pate is president of the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers and a peninsula resident for 26 years.

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