Three candidates are on the ballot for the borough assembly seat representing Nikiski. Joe Ross is a longtime North Roader who runs a gravel and topsoil business. He’s made one other run for public office and served on local service area boards. Jesse Bjorkman is a teacher at Nikiski Middle High School. On a recent episode of the Kenai Conversation, the two weighed in on the two ballot propositions voters will also decide in October.
There is a third candidate in this race. Former borough chief of staff John Quick has been making his own headlines lately, but not for any of his policy ideas. His campaign was was working with a local, conservative political action committee, in violation of state election law. Quick was invited on our show, but turned down ours and other invitations for candidate forums, so we don’t really know what he thinks about sales tax and the role of the borough mayor. But his opponents have their own ideas. On the mayor question, which is really a question about reducing the role of the borough mayor and putting day to day administrative responsibilities in the hands of a borough manager, both Ross and Bjorkman say the system works as is.
“I think we need to have a strong mayor,” Ross says.
“The mayor is responsible to the people. If you have a manager running the borough, the manager is going to have to answer to the assembly. So the assembly is going to look for a yes man. They’re going to want somebody they can kick around and get to do what they want to do, and that’s exactly what we don’t have now. We’ve got a strong mayor. Right now, you can go into the mayor’s office with whatever concern you have and it may be that it’s not what the assembly wants and that’s the way it should be. It’s checks and balances.”
“I’m a hard no on Prop 1,” Bjorkman says.
“Nikiski needs a strong mayor that the folks in Nikiski can go to and ask for the mayor to advocate for them. I agree with Mr. Ross, that’s very important. That elected position allows the people of Nikiski to have an increased voice. If they don’t have a strong voice in the mayor’s office, their voice is diminished. Their voice is diminished to one of nine and I don’t think that’s a good situation for Nikiski to be in.”
There is a little more daylight between the candidates when it comes to the other ballot proposition. It asks voters to approve doubling the borough sales tax cap, from $500 to $1,000. So if you make a $1,000 purchase, the sales tax on that would go from $1.50 to $3.00. It would raise in excess of $3 million for the borough budget. That would make education funding a bit easier, which is a priority for Bjorkman.
“Considering we had a .2 mill (rate) increase two years ago, I am in favor of upping the tax cap, as a part of reducing the mill rate,” Bjorkman says. “I think having the borough rely on revenue that comes from consumption of its residents is a lot better than just rolling that mill rate on working families in Nikiski.”
Joe Ross says he could support this one, if the borough had a revenue problem. But he says, despite several years of deferred maintenance and other cuts to help close a multi-million dollar budget gap, the borough has enough revenue right now.
“We’re missing some state money right now, overflow from the state from when oil prices were high and at some point, maybe some of that will have to be replaced. But this whole sales tax cap thing, I mean how many times has that come before the voters? The voters vote it down every time and it keeps coming back. It seems to me that’s an indication the folks that are in there right now are not listening. (We) don’t need it right now, but maybe in the future if (we) did, I could see looking at that, but right now I’m not in favor.”
Borough elections are Tuesday, October 1st.