Talking points

Borough mayor hopefuls speak in first debate

Posted: Thursday, August 18, 2005

Five candidates got the race for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor rolling in front of a full house Wednesday, addressing issues on efficient government, budget, taxes and land.

All but one of the six candidates were on hand at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Paradisos for the forum. With one minute apiece to answer questions, Ed Oberts, Gary Superman, John Torgerson, Ray VinZant and John Williams had little opportunity to expand on their platforms. However, they did give the crowd a taste. Candidate Fred Sturman was not in attendance.

Each candidate had his own ideas on how he would make the borough more efficient.

Williams said he would do an overall review first, making sure not to overload one department for the sake of another.

"I feel we're holding the line," said Superman, who is president of the borough assembly, noting the deduction of five positions.

Oberts wants people to see more efficiency as soon as they step in the Borough Building.

"We need to create a true information desk," Oberts said. "We want to not only refer you, we want to make sure you talk to someone.

"We're making things more and more efficient to get things on the Internet."

Torgerson said he plans on looking into a spending cap, saying it has worked in other areas of the state.

"It puts down pressure on the government," he said after the forum.

For VinZant, the issue is population.

"We have tremendous growth. We have to watch what we're doing," he said.

VinZant also said the borough should aim to become a Class 1 borough, increasing its powers. However, the other candidates said they feel that decision should be up to the people at the polls.

"It's possible to take on more power through service areas, but it requires a vote," Oberts said.

Williams agreed.

"I'm willing to work with the assembly to empower any new service area people want, but people have to understand it's going to cost money," he said.

Superman said he's not afraid to think outside the box.

"But there are problems out there, and we need to be aware of them," he said.

On balancing the budget, Superman said the borough has a "tough row to hoe" ahead. Oberts said education is the problem area, which is why the assembly chose to raise the sales tax this year — so finances wouldn't negatively impact education.

Torgerson agreed.

"It's the path of least resistance to do a sales tax," he said. "The least popular is a property tax."

Williams said the budget is not balanced by any means.

"Millions were taken from the reserve account to make it balance," he said, adding the account could go even lower.

"We need to figure out how to save money," VinZant said. "We should never spend it faster than we take it in."

One question asked the candidates if they support Proposition 5, which will be on the Oct. 4 ballot.

If approved, Prop 5 would set the borough sales tax at 2 percent on the first $500 of retail sale value and require that any future increase be ratified by 60 percent of the voters.

Oberts and Torgerson said they plan to vote against it. VinZant isn't sure.

"I'm a supporter of minimal taxation," Superman said.

"I wish we didn't have to vote on this, but if we don't then we'd have to increase the property tax," Williams said.

The candidates were asked how they would manage borough land. VinZant, Oberts and Superman said they'd like to see more land for sale.

Williams made three points, saying the borough needed to acquire land available from the state, put it on the tax rolls and put that money into the land trust without a cap.

Torgerson said he felt the borough was doing a good job.

"We could accelerate the process more," he said. "It needs to be more user-friendly."

The chamber plans additional candidate forums before the election, including one with Sturman.

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