Borough Assembly candidates discuss consolidation, the economy, and education (Candidate Forum recap, part 1)

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Tuesday night, five candidates for three seats on the Borough Assembly presented their cases at a candidate forum sponsored by KMXT and the Kodiak Daily Mirror.

Candidates answering questions at the forum were Alex Hartman, Geoff Smith, and Aimee Williams, with incumbents Julie Kavanaugh and Rebecca Skinner. Joe Delgado and Sandra Katelnikoff-Lester were unable to attend, but did submit candidate statements.

Candidates discussed their positions on many key issues facing the Kodiak Island Borough, and first up was the proposal to investigate consolidation of the borough and city governments. All of the candidates declared their support for the work of the Consolidation Committee and hoped for a better working relationship with the city government.

Assembly candidate Aimee Williams: “The fact that the city withdrew its representative, I have a feeling that’s temporary and they’ll come back to the table because they are such an important part of it. I think that process should absol

utely continue, and I guess I reserve my right to say whether I’m for or against consolidation to wait and fight out what that committee finds out and see the numbers. I think everyone wants to see a more efficient government with less layers, but I also want to ensure that those same services are able to be provided by that one centralized government.”

Much of the forum after that was devoted to budget. When asked about their positions on Proposition 1, which, if approved, would allow the borough to tap the principle of the Facilities Fund to cover bond debt payments, most candidates agreed that using the fund should only come as a last resort.

Assembly candidate Geoff Smith: “We’ve kicked this can for a long time. And now it’s like the rubber band is stretched as far as we can stretch a rubber band. We’ve waited until we’re at this moment where we have to make a decision: how are we going to continue to fund and afford the services that we all enjoy. Are there other options for revenue? Absolutely. Have we looked at all of those options? Not necessarily.”

Incumbent Rebecca Skinner, a co-sponsor of Proposition 1, explained her position on why having the Facilities Fund as an option is important. “Would I consider using the principle if approved by the voters? Of course. It’s an option. It’s a tool on the table. Would that be my first choice? No, it would not. But we have to pay our debt. That’s not an option. And if we don’t have a way or time to raise revenue from other sources, we have to pay our debt.”

This led to a discussion of the candidates’ ideas about the Kodiak economy and bridging budget gaps. The candidates all supported a balance of exploring budget cuts, with some candidates declaring their unwillingness to raise property taxes.

Incumbent Julie Kavanaugh argued for a stable tax rate. “I have been steadfast that our local residents need a stable tax rate to depend on, and that that provides the ability for individuals and local businesses to remain invested in our economy. That being said, we have avoided a mill rate increase for multiple years, and I think that will have to be looked at.”

Much of the discussion, though, focused on increasing revenue and diversifying the local economy. Skinner and candidate Alex Hartman proposed looking at regulations and zoning codes.

Skinner: “Economic development and industry is really focused on regulations and for from a borough perspective land use regulation or zoning, that helps, encourage and support business development or business diversification.”

Hartman: “To diversify is a very good way o creating more business opportunities for freeing up land around this town, and to simplify the codes. It is sometimes very hard for people to start new businesses because of a simple code rule that’s in the way.”

Williams proposed investment in local industry such as tourism and fisheries, and Kavanaugh suggested opening up land for industrial use and support for the business sector.

Williams: “Expand our shipyard, our boatyard, stuff like that. Having support from the borough as we try to reach out and get more business into those kinds of things will help our ports and harbors in the future, too.”

Kavanaugh: “I know the state is having a conversation about divesting from lands that they feel like is no longer necessary for them to hold. I think the borough can look at acquiring those plots of land.”

As largest expenditure of the borough budget, support for local public education was another deeply discussed topic.

Hartman and Smith consider borough support as investment in the community.

Hartman: “I support education and it’s a big integrity of any society that has good education ,then you’ll have better people in society that are thinking better.”

Smith: “The children, the youth of this community are the future of this community. How we support them today, and how we invest in them today, is what is going to pay dividends for the longevity of our community. It has to be our priority. As a borough defined as a second-class borough, it’s outlined as one of our major priorities. So, realizing that we cut the school district by the amount of money that we cut the school district by, that results in cuts in staff, personnel, resources needed for the education of our youth. The needs of the students in our community have changed drastically in the last 24 years, and they’re going to continue to change as our society changes.”

Incumbents Skinner and Kavanaugh expressed concern about the borough’s bond debt affecting education appropriations. Skinner said the state’s budget in terms of funding public education needs to be stabilized.

Stability was a metaphor used by the incumbents as they declared their support for stable tax rates, stable state budget, stable and predictable revenue.

Challengers to their seats emphasized the value of communication and their dedication to improving Kodiak’s quality of life.

The candidates also discussed how they would prioritize non-profit support, village cooperation in borough decisions, community response to COVID-19, and conflict of interest matters. KMXT will have a recap of the candidates’ takes on these topics in part 2 tomorrow.

You can listen to the full recording of the forum on kmxt.org.

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