First off, congratulations to John Williams for winning this week’s Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor runoff election. Williams is a consummate statesman with years of experience in politics and what looks to be a solid plan for getting the borough’s financial house in order.
We’ll be well served to have him in charge for the next three years.
Congratulations should also go to Williams’ opponent, John Torgerson. Torgerson ran a strong, issues-based campaign that focused on his record and plans for the future. Too often in politics, we’re forced to endure months of negative campaign ads and messy rhetoric from both sides.
This campaign was a welcome respite from such shenanigans, and both Torgerson and Williams should be proud.
Now, the tough stuff.
Williams inherits a borough government faced with a deficit that seems to grow with each new estimate.
During candidate debates, the $9 million figure was tossed about, and that number appears to be close to accurate.
Nine million dollars is not the end of the world, but it’s not exactly chump change. Facing a deficit this large won’t be easy for Williams and his new administration, and it’s likely cuts will have to be made to administrative positions and boroughwide services.
Williams has said his first order of business will be to appoint a team to study how to bring the budget back in line. He’s said pretty much everything is on the table and already has announced that he plans to do away with the borough’s Community and Economic Development Division.
That’s a good move. For too long, the borough has supported two separate entities the CEDD, as well as the Economic Development District which are tasked with essentially the same mission.
As for other moves, it’s going to take all of Williams’ political skill to figure out how to either raise new revenues or make cuts that will not deal a crippling blow to essential services such as education and roads.
This will be no easy task. The borough’s voters already have spoken loudly that new taxes aren’t likely to be embraced warmly if at all.
That means cuts, something Williams is going to have to work closely with individual assembly members to achieve.
Because no representative wants to see his constituents bear the brunt of government belt-tightening, WIlliams is going to need the support of the people as well as the backing of the nine assembly members who will be responsible for passing any legislation the new mayor proposes.
With his experience in budget matters Williams left the city of Kenai with a surplus in the tens of millions of dollars it’s a good bet our new mayor will be able to weather the storm of financial uncertainty and steer the borough into calmer waters.
For this to happen, he’s going to need the public that’s willing to hear new ideas and willing to keep an open mind to controversial proposals.
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