The economy on the Kenai Peninsula Borough is the main issue. "Somebody has to be willing to start the conversation about the hard issues," says Fred Sturman, candidate for borough assembly position 1, which is most of the city of Soldotna, "over the next 4 years we have committed to spend about half of our savings account, which was up to $26 million, and everybody understands how important it is to not spend your principal."
There is only one group of people whose numbers are expanding here. It is the government employee group. Over the past 15 years the borough has experienced 19 percent population growth, from 43,612 to 52,382 but the borough staff has increased 38 percent from 180 to 249. This is during a time of computers and expensive technology. More staff, higher salaries, with higher benefit packages like fully funded pensions and health insurance. How many in the private sector have had to take pay cuts and maybe their health insurance went away.
The borough is just like Alaska Airlines, when the people aren't flying AA has to cut the budget. The most expensive part of any company budget is staff so jobs are cut. That just doesn't happen at the borough. Few people are willing to lead an unpopular discussion of staff cuts and other budget reductions. The assembly and the school board both signed new contracts for substantial pay increases when the sources of the money was in doubt. The assembly did not even seem to know what the increases really amounted to.
It turns out the state Legislature has passed laws about the pension fund and health insurance levels. Maybe we need to change a few legislators and get these laws changed so boroughs and cities are more in charge of their own employees.
"And one of the toughest subjects is schools," Sturman continues. "Fifteen years ago we had 9,500 students and now we have 9,600 students but our costs have gone up 69 percent from $52.7 million to $89 million."
"True, we have three more school buildings and utilities have gone up, but this is out-of-control." The borough assembly authorizes the school budgets. "The people have spoken about not cutting the cocurricular but there are other changes that can be made," said Sturman.
All is not doom and gloom. We live in a wonderful place and are far enough away from the rat-race to appreciate our community. We have always been able to pull together and make things work to our benefit. As citizens we need to be more aware of the actions of our employees and the long-term costs of those actions. We need to do something before we are forced into a corner. I never thought I would be a candidate for office, but we local citizens must take firm control of our local government. That is why I, Fred Sturman, am running for assembly position 1.
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