Central District race matter of fiscal plans, experience

Posted: Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Two fiscal conservatives are vying for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly District 7 seat, which represents a meandering, unincorporated rural region called the Central District that includes Kasilof, Cohoe, Clam Gulch, Kalifornsky and a region east and south of Tustumena Lake.

Incumbent Paul Fischer, a retired business owner and educator, has had a long career in political office, serving on the assembly in the 1970s and early 1980s, followed by decade in the Alaska Senate. He returned to the assembly in 1998.

Saying efforts by the assembly and borough to control spending, fund education and maintain roads have been commendable, Fischer suggests his experience would be important to continuing that trend.

Challenger Mark D. Osterman, an attorney, is a relative newcomer to Alaska by comparison, having lived here for the past four years, but also having spent time in Alaska in the 1970s and 1980s. He acknowledged Fischer's political career, but suggests Fischer doesn't have his experience in the market place.

Osterman takes issue with borough spending, for instance, labeling as a misuse of funds the borough's backing of the Arctic Winter Games planned for 2006. He also argues that the state of borough roads is "a neglected issue."

On some things, the two men agree. For instance, both say the borough's fund balance is too large, with Osterman saying it should be under $10 million and Fischer saying it should be large enough so the borough does not have to borrow money if it needs quick cash.

Both see the need to promote economic development. Fischer suggests the borough should be actively advertising what it has to offer new industries. Osterman favors backing the efforts of local chambers of commerce and the borough Economic Development District.

A pair of ballot propositions will appear on the District 7 ballot.

Both candidates say they'll support Proposition 1, which would increase the portion of the value of a homeowner's primary residence exempted from borough property taxes from $10,000 to $20,000. Approval by the voters would only give the assembly the authority to increase the exemption. Fischer said he wants to be on the assembly to insure that the full exemption is enacted. Osterman said it would provide some relief against rising assessments.

Proposition 6 would expand fire services into parts of the district. Voters inside the existing Central Emergency Service Area, as well as those in the new proposed expanded area, will vote on the proposition.

Here, the two men appear to differ.

Fischer said he could "go either way," on the issue and is willing to leave it up to voters. If they approve, property taxes in the new area soon would rise, but the new service-area residents would not see new fire stations built anytime soon, nor would they see a noticeable reduction in response times by fire and ambulance crews, Fischer said.

Osterman calls Proposition 6 unfair. He objects to taxing residents for services they won't see. Further, he objects to people within the existing Central Emergency Service Area getting to vote for expansion in effect, he argues, voting to impose taxes on their neighbors who wouldn't reap any measurable benefits for some time.

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