In our first recap of Tuesday night’s Borough Assembly Candidate Forum, five candidates for three assembly seats discussed their views on the economy, education, and consolidation. KMXT’s Jared Griffin overviewed the candidates’ positions on non-profit funding, village cooperation in borough decisions, COVID-19, and conflicts of interest.
Even though borough financial support for non-profits makes up a relatively small portion of the borough’s multi-million dollar budget, few issues turn out public comments at assembly meetings than when they are discussing non-profit support.
Most candidates expressed their support for non-profits.
Incumbent Julie Kavanaugh: “Nonprofits are an important aspect of Kodiak Island’s quality of life. And I firmly believe that the Borough Assembly has worked really hard to spread funds that are available to nonprofits as fairly as possible.”
But in an era of shrinking revenue, non-profit funding may not find as big a place in future borough budgets.
Incumbent Rebecca Skinner explains: “You really need to start with the expenditures that you have to make. And for the borough those include paying our debt, which is rounded up $9 million, supporting education, let’s say a round number $9 million, and taking care of our borough buildings. Borough buildings at a minimum should be getting $2 million set aside to take care of borough buildings. If you add nine plus nine plus two, you get 20 million dollars and clearly that far exceeds the amount we collect in property tax.”
Candidate Aimee Williams sees non-profit support as an economic issue. “That is something that is directly related to keeping people here and getting kids to come back from college and raise families here, which then in turn returns revenue back to the borough and city. When we look at essential things, I lean way more to nonprofits being essential more than unnecessary.”
All of the candidates also expressed the need to increase communication with village communities, and proposed some ways to do that.
Candidate Geoff Smith: “I would be interested in exploring the potential of an advisory board. Is there a way to include some of our leaders from our rural communities in those discussions, or in work sessions, and getting input from them as well in terms of things that are happening in their communities and the things that are happening in the city of Kodiak.”
Skinner proposed reviving The Borough Mayors’ Conference: “It’s basically a conference of all of the village mayors hosted by the borough mayor. Back in the day it was an in-person meeting so everyone flew in to Kodiak. And that provided a structure which brought together municipal leaders of the different communities, and it was an opportunity for information sharing and creating and maintaining those connections.”
Candidate Alex Hartman suggested expanding the Assembly. “Possibly, even, maybe, creating a seat for each village here at the borough assembly, so their voices can be heard and have a better opinions and get some dialogue going.”
Looming over the candidate forum was the borough’s response to COVID-19, a pandemic that has affected every issue the candidates discussed. All of the candidates reinforced the importance for public officials to stay informed, as Kavanaugh explained: “I think it is important moving forward the borough stay engaged and informed. As an assembly member I proactively attended state and federal Covid teleconference briefings throughout the pandemic. And to the best of my ability researched and studied the CARES Act funding criteria.
Williams, again, pointed to the economic impacts. “The businesses were left scrambling, and the borough did a good job when they step up and gave a portion of their CASRES Act money to be distributed as grants to businesses. And again touching back on non-profits, that was really helpful.”
Smith agreed, and brought up additional relief opportunities: “I think it’s in our interest to continue to support those local businesses, whether that’s through grants or waivers or extensions on taxes due, rent due for borough buildings. I think we need to be ready to embrace this for the long haul; I think that we’re just getting started again.”
The candidates also agreed on supporting local preferences for borough contracts, as Hartman explained the economic benefits of small projects: “I think keeping small projects to the contractors in this town is a great economic drive because it does keep the money here, it tends to keep the money here closer to home.”
Williams agreed, but noted the positive economic effects that off-island contractors have: “They require accommodations and rental cars and entertainment and beer. Their money gets spent that way. That has actually saved some of our businesses this summer when there were a lack of tourists, having those folks on the island.”
Finally, all of the candidates assured the public that they would abide by any conflict of interest policies and rulings.
The forum ended with each candidate making their final pitch to voters and summarizing their priorities for the borough.
Incumbents Kavanaugh and Skinner reiterated their takes on the budget:
Kvanaugh: “Maintaining a stable tax rate is the top priority. I think it will be hard to do. But if you ask the question will my taxes remain stable, I can’t promise you that. But a stable tax rate will be my priority.”
Skinner: “My biggest issue is, we have this huge budget situation, but that doesn’t mean that we can stop taking care of the borough’s day to day business and address issues that we need to as they come up.”
Challengers highlighted their skills in communication and collaboration.
Candidate Hartman: “I tend to hold a high integrity, and have open communication with both the public and fellow members on the assembly.”
Smith added: “I would say that in my professional career that I have had experience in having difficult conversations, valuing relationships, listening for understanding, and being able to work with others.”
Forum moderator Mike Wall read statements from two other candidates who could not attend the forum—Joe Delgado and Sandra Katelnikoff-Lester.
You can listen to the full forum and part 1 of KMXT’s forum recap on kmxt.org.
Election day for local elections—including races for the Borough Assembly, City Council, and school board—is Tuesday, October 6th. Early voting is available at the borough building through Monday, October 5th.