Assembly forum brings out varied views on way borough is handled

Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2004

Candidates for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly got the chance Thursday night to share their views on everything from zoning laws to apple pie at a candidates forum sponsored by the Kenai Peninsula League of Women Voters.

The seven candidates running for three central peninsula seats included James Price and Gary Superman (running to represent Nikiski); Pete Sprague, Fred Sturman and Mike Swan (Soldotna); and Paul Fischer and Mark Osterman (Kasilof). Each candidate was asked the same question by a moderator and given one minute to speak.

The format put quick thinking at a premium. Responses featured plenty of gentle ribbing and a few less-than-gentle barbs aimed at opponents.

For the most part, however, candidates stuck to the issues they believe are most important to their potential constituents and explained why they want to run for the assembly.

"I believe we have a problem with our deficit," Price said to start the meeting, picking up a theme he would continue to hammer throughout the event.

Price, who said his background in politics stems mainly from helping out with ballot initiative drives including a push to exempt residents from paying sales tax on groceries and a campaign against a private prison said his main reason for running is he'd like to see the borough not spend its reserve funds.

"Basically, I'm trying to reduce the size of the borough government," he said.

Price is challenging District 3 incumbent Gary Superman, who has served on the assembly since 2001 and also served between 1989 and 1992. Superman said his main goal as an assembly member is to give a voice to the various individual concerns he hears in his community.

"As an assembly person, I've done the best job I could to interact with the various factions within my community," he said.

Superman said although Nikiski voters have a lot of different opinions, he believes the basic issues for all are the same.

"They're interested in quality of life, they're interested in maintaining that quality of life and they're interested in improving their quality of life," he said.

Superman stressed he has no interest in seeing the borough spend more money.

"I want to give the maximum amount of services for the minimum property tax rate," he said.

Three candidates are running to represent District 4, which includes the city of Soldotna. Sturman said he believes the assembly needs to be more responsive to people's needs.

"I think Pete's (Sprague) a pretty good job," he said. "... I just feel like the borough assembly has been real relaxed about taking care of specific problems we have in our borough."

Swan was less kind to Sprague, saying the incumbent's record is shaky on a number of issues.

"There's no consistency in it," he said.

For his part, Sprague said he's been a solid representative of Soldotna whose experience on the assembly speaks for itself.

The most contentious battle of the evening came in the race for District 7, where incumbent Paul Fisher is being challenged by Mark Osterman.

Fischer opened the meeting by saying his experience in government including two stints on the assembly and 10 years in the state Senate make him the best person for the job.

"I think experience is what I bring," he said.

Osterman, however, said he's tired of Fischer and believes a change needs to be made.

"I disagree with him recently more and more frequently," Osterman said, noting he was extremely disappointed with Fischer's vote to back the Arctic Winter Games.

The games question was the first specific issue asked about by the forum's moderator. It was followed by a number of questions, ranging from candidates' stances on how to generate new revenue to the candidates' favorite dessert. The following is a brief review of how the candidates answered each question:

Q: What is the return to borough taxpayers for their investment in the Arctic Winter Games?

Superman: "I don't think it can be quantified ... . We are putting on a fine celebration that will celebrate a wide variety of ethnicities ... . I think it's a fabulous cultural event for the peninsula."

Sprague: "I don't think we got into this to break even, but I think the borough will get a return on its investments," he said, noting the infrastructure left by the games will include improved trails and public facilities.

Sturman: "I think it will do something good for the Kenai Peninsula Borough ... (but) this stuff should not be done with taxpayer's money ... . If it benefits you, you've got to pay for it. If it doesn't benefit you, you shouldn't have to pay."

Swan: "We can't look at everything in dollars and cents ... . It's a positive thing."

Fischer: "I did support the Arctic Winter Games and would do it again ... . We're going to get more sales tax from people coming in from all over the hemisphere."

Osterman: "The borough knew $2.5 million was going to be the shortfall," he said, charging that the taxpayers will be on the hook for the cost of the games. "I'd be excited if some guy with tar and feathers isn't going to chase me down the road."

Price: "It should have been a vote of the people ... . If there's a bill at the end, I'd be surprised if the borough isn't the one that has to pick it up ... . I really wish more people had been involved."

Q: What are your top three revenue generating ideas?

Sprague: "Property tax ... sales tax ... everything else we can do is encourage economic development."

Sturman: "The way we can save this borough is by cutting the budgets."

Swan: "What I really believe is we have to help businesses come to this area and not rely on the oil companies to pull us out again and again ... . We need to look at borough land ... . There's no reason for the borough to hold onto that land."

Fischer: "We've got to make land available to sell ... we have oodles of land ... (that) needs to be affordable ... . We can't subdivide borough land and charge $100 thousand per lot."

Osterman: "We ought to look at civil penalties for water and ground pollution ... . We need to stop these foolish exemptions that are on these sales taxes now."

Price: "We really need to make sure our budget deficit is under control so businesses won't be reluctant to come here and do business."

Superman: "I voted for every land sale ... . I proposed a gaming function here in this state ... . (We) need to change the (state's education funding) foundation formula."

Q: Why should someone vote for you?

Sturman: "I can't see nobody on the assembly really reaching out and grabbing the bull by the horns."

Swan: "I have a family ... . That brings out some differences in how you interact with different people."

Fischer: "I don't have any ax to grind at all ... . I'm not an attorney."

Osterman: "I'm not an attorney either. I'm a lawyer there's a difference ... . We've had a problem (in the borough) for a long time with crony-ism ... . We cannot do (the borough's) work sitting on what we did 20 years ago."

Price: "I'm in tune with the people."

Superman: "I believe in representative democracy ... . I'm fully invested in my community ... . My property tax bill is important to me ... . I've got a plan, I don't just talk to the wind."

Sprague: "I'd like to cut the budget, not gut the budget ... . I was the only one on the assembly to vote against the original (private prison) contract with Cornell ... . I can take a stand."

Q: How do you resolve the growing number of zoning disputes?

Swan: "We've got a lot of 'nimby' syndrome going on out there."

Fischer: "When the people voted against dog control, we should have stayed with it."

Osterman: "As Paul pointed out, there is local land use."

Price: "We do have local zoning ... . I don't favor zoning."

Superman: "The enjoyment of my property ends when my neighbor begins to detract from my enjoyment of my property ... . The borough needs to get in and start developing a new 21-12 type of ordinance that provides people with some means of control over their property."

Sprague: "I see the comprehensive plan as a road map of where the residents of our borough want us to go in the next 10 years."

Sturman: "I feel like most people ought to do pretty much as well what they want to do on their land as long as they don't interfere with their neighbors."

Q: What's the most important priority for the comprehensive plan?

Fischer: No highest priority.

Osterman: "Mine is roads ... . We have to build roads in this borough."

Price: "The deficit ... . I'd like to see the development of a road system going through Captain Cook and toward Anchorage ... . We could become a bedroom community to Anchorage and that would be a tremendous boom for the Kenai Peninsula Borough."

Superman: "Development of infrastructure ... . We have to resolve the growing number of land-use conflicts ... building infrastructure and securing (people's) property with a certain measure of protection."

Sprague: "Basically, just looking at land-use planning in the future."

Sturman: "To move the federal government's land over to the Kenai Peninsula Borough ... . Let's get the federal government to give us our land back."

Swan: "(The borough) has been poor stewards of their land."

Q: What are three things the borough is doing right?

Osterman: Snow removal, economic development and "some land-use issues."

Price: "Overall, the borough's doing a good job, but we have some problems that need to be addressed."

Superman: Roads, trash, economic development and "the oil and gas liaison. I think it's critical to the borough right now."

Sprague: Education funding, giving voters a chance to vote on capital projects and the assembly's project priority list.

Sturman: The assessing office and schools.

Swan: Planning department and roads, but "that doesn't mean we can just sit back and enjoy life."

Fischer: Low mill rate and "we probably have schools that are second to none."

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