The fall ballot for borough elections is beginning to take shape. The assembly tackled a number of ordinances that, if approved would have sent some important questions to the ballot for voters to decide.
In no particular order, those questions included a proposal to switch to a manager form of government. An almost identical proposal was on the ballot in 2010. In fact, that one was co-sponsored by Mayor Charlie Pierce when he was on the assembly. Even though 2010 vote failed by a wide margin and that wasn’t enough reason for the assembly to vote to keep it off this year’s ballot.
“As stated before, this particular measure...was resoundingly defeated, seventy some odd percent, which in the political world is a total bloodbath as far as a measure being defeated," said assembly president Wayne Ogle. "This is a different time a different place, but the voters really exercised their opinion on it.”
One argument against making the switch is cost. Finding people qualified to manage an $80 million enterprise doesn’t come cheap. Making public comments for the first time since a lawsuit was settled on her behalf, former borough human resources director Stormy Brown testified in favor of putting the question on the ballot. She said the costs of poor management that can lead to lawsuits like hers, a wrongful termination claim that cost borough taxpayers more than $150,000, are more likely to be avoided when management responsibilities are left to professionals rather than popularly elected politicians.
“An elected strong mayor does not have to be qualified to know anything. They don’t have to know how to manage money, or staff, or contracts, or really anything at all and they get just under $100,000 in salary. They also get the authority to fill their office with folks paid more than they are. We don’t get to see those resumes, either, but they have earned more than the mayor often. And then we’ve seen what happens when resumes don’t get checked. People get embarassed.”
That ordinance passed by a 6-3 vote and the manager question will be on the ballot in October.
Next up was the seemingly annual question about taxes. Sales taxes in this case. The assembly has tried in recent years, with varying degrees of conviction, to get some sort of revenue increase on the ballot. A bed tax has also been tried several times. This one will ask voters to approve an increase on the sales tax cap to $1,000. The cap is currently $500, as it has been for more than 50 years. If approved, it would only represent an increase on purchases between $500 and $1,000. As with a bed tax, if approved, the estimated revenues of $3.4 million a year beginning in the second year would do a lot to close the borough’s ongoing budget gap. Assembly member Norm Blakely voted in favor of putting it on the ballot, though reluctantly, because that new revenue might get spent.
“After being on this body for awhile, it seems like we have a real problem with spending money constantly," Blakely said. "And we’re going to get another $3.4 million out of this approximately and I know it’s going to be spent somehow, somewhere, and that’s my problem with it. But people have a right to vote on it.”
By a vote of 7-2, the question was also included for the fall ballot. What will not make the ballot is a question to keep or repeal the borough’s invocation policy. A source of hot contention and debate since a 2016 lawsuit was filed, and then settled against the borough, it’s also been the source of protests and significant legal costs to borough tax payers. But it will remain on the books, as the ordinance was pulled off the agenda by its own sponsor, Willie Dunne.
In addition to the tax and manager questions, three assembly seats are also up for election in October; District 3 in Nikiski where Wayne Ogle is termed out. One candidate, Joseph Ross, has already filed for that seat. Current Soldotna council member Tyson Cox will be running to replace Dale Bagley in District 4, and a bit farther south in District Paul Fischer is not seeking reelection. No one has filed for that race yet. Deadline for candidates to file is August 15th.