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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Our borough mayor runnin with scissors...

If you’re a parent, and even if you’re not, you know what happens when a room full of un-chaperoned squealing kids goes all quiet.  That’s when someone finds the scissors, and before you know it, “home barbershop” has taken on a whole new meaning and it’s the day before the family photo. The borough mayor has been busy during this little break between assembly meetings it seems, and the citizen’s of the borough might just end up with a whopper of a haircut.

Vote gerrymandering…
Told you about the community council game changer ordinance headed to the assembly table Dec 6th  and how it would give individual community councils the ability to decide who they allow to vote.  The mayor has now introduced a substitute ordinance to make it clearer what he has in mind. The new spin on the legislation adds language making it obvious what the mayor is trying to achieve, and that it would “allow Community Councils to decide whether they want to” expand the definition to allow landowners as well as residents to be members of community councils. They will need to have some time to amend their bylaws and possibly their articles of incorporation to provide for membership by property owners. So there’s part of the rub.  Besides the huge issue of allowing mega land owners and corporations to take one more step into our everyday lives by now becoming a voting person in local community council issues, the cost of making those changes is the financial burden of the community council.  Isn’t that just the icing on the cake?  Pretty sure it wasn’t long ago that more than a few councils found out that if they were not incorporated that they couldn’t receive any revenue sharing according to state regulation.  This was a pretty big chunk of change to a volunteer community organization that cannot charge dues of more than $10.00 per member yearly to meet the cost of its operations. Have you bought a cartridge of printer ink lately?  That will cost you about 6 or 7 yearly members’ dues.  Again the mayor would like to shift the cost of changing regulation to fit his criteria to another pocket, yours.   Of all the cans kicked down the road this one begs for a big punt. 

A head pat and a slap….
And apparently the mayor has found the time to read the local paper.  The “Frontiersman” published an interesting editorial that called out the mayor and five of the six assembly members for not taking the life line assembly member Keogh threw them banning cell phones and texting at the assembly table.  The Frontiersman called the mayor and the 5 assembly members “out of touch with the wishes of those who they serve” “Snap!” That will leave a mark.  The newspaper called it just right supported  by a back up poll on their site that asked “Should elected officials be permitted to send email, texts or take phone calls during public meetings?” As of today, 87% of those voting said a big whopping NO!  So the mayor has straightened his crown and whipped out another resolution.  Resolution 11-158 is a dandy. After a series of whereas’s and supersedes the mayor is now adding that “during assembly meetings the Mayor and members of the Assembly will not communicate electronically with each other, so that all deliberations happen openly and publicly”. That’s the head pat part.  No specific language about cell phones, texting or otherwise but it might satisfy a few of those Frontiersman readers and poll voters.  No mention of people, lobbyists, special interests or long arms from China/Taiwan texting or cell phoning the Mayor or Assembly members during the meeting or during their breaks.  Doncha think instead of a pat on the head  people of the borough are being “patted down” more than anything with this legislation?

The “slap” comes later in the resolution that says “the mayor from time to time may request, before the assembly meeting, that the clerk provide for pro and con sign-up sheets on an issue for members of the public to sign-up to speak to an item”.  Remember that pesky coal meeting where the mayor sailed this trial balloon in the name of keeping order and then later in the meeting cut short the testimony when he ran out of “pro-coal” testifiers? Yeah that one. That was a wet kite that wouldn’t sail even in a Palmer wind and it doesn’t sail any better now.  Requiring that the public prior to their testimony inform the assembly and the mayor just what their position is on an item they want to speak to is really beyond the pale.  There is just no sugar coating this. So really is the common thread in both these resolutions the mayor and whoever is pulling his strings trying to change the way the people of the valley VOTE and speak in the borough about their concerns and issues? We are flirting with some pretty basic rights of democracy here folks.  

Add to that pile of steaming hair on the carpet an unexplained cancellation yesterday of the quarterly Joint Assembly School Board meeting that was set for December 13th. The meeting was to feature well known and respected state economist Neil Fried speaking to the joint bodies after the current census and demographics on the economy  to be followed by a question and answer period.  Important stuff it would seem for elected officials to consider. Curiously the assembly meeting at 4pm the same day on changing procurement procedures wasn't cancelled. So it seems like ceremonial mayor Devilbiss has been pretty busy running with scissors this week.  We might get a glimpse of the haircut he delivers to the valley  at the assembly meeting Dec 6th

Seriously, how do some people sleep at night….

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A roll in the gravel with a vote...

After the last almost 1100 page assembly package everyone took off their dance shoes until Dec 6th.  Good to have a little break to give us a chance to look more closely at two big bites that will be on the assembly smorgasbord coming up then. 

First lets have a roll in the gravel
Introduced at the Nov 15th meeting ordinance 11-153 amends an existing ordinance governing the interim (temporary) materials district, conditional use permit to remove gravel and the definitions which include provisions of removal below the water table.  Down the rabbit hole we go back to 2005 when the assembly passed the bones to the ordinance now in place.  If memory serves, there was a fair amount of teeth gnashing and much hair pulling with that former assembly. Band aids were assigned in 2007 and 2008 including the ever popular “working group” with lingering concerns about reclamation and the pro and cons of allowing excavation into the seasonal high water table. To say this issue has been a hot political football would hardly do it justice.  But now with the self described veto proof mayor seated, the rabbit is getting jerked out of the hat for some fast action before the political landscape changes again. 

Stop the eye rolling.  Why should you care what some guy in the other end of the valley does with his rock pile? Other than being prepared to say a few new four letter words when that dump truck full of his gravel passes you on the Parks Hwy and redesigns your windshield by delivering a few straying pebbles?  There’s an easy answer and its two things that you and all your valley neighbors need for basic human survival. And no it’s not duct tape or finding the missing remote.  It is clean air and water. 

The ordinance before the assembly Dec 6th  if passed, will allow gravel operators to mine in our water table.  Is it a good idea to mine our drinking water?  I mean really what could go wrong?  You should expect there to be a big rush to push the yes button based on the “there is plenty of regulation” and “borough needs to be opened for business” rants from the usual suspects sitting at the horse shoe.  We already know how a few assembly members make that a regular “go to” argument on pretty much anything.  Expect to hear a bellow or two from at least one pumped out chest that “It’s done everywhere with no negatives,” and other similar nonsense. Except there are plenty of places that have banned it or are heavily regulated after bad outcomes and yes it should be one of our local government’s responsibilities to protect rights to clean water and air. 

Property rights=Water rights
People might be surprised to learn that it’s the minority of property owners in the Mat Su that actually own their property water rights. Land owners don’t have automatic rights to ground or surface water in Alaska.  You can get them by filing with the state and here is the handy dandy link to do so.   This only entitles a property owner to a claim of water quantity not quality.  Bet you could ask the next ten people if they own their water rights and you would be lucky to find that one person out of 100 has gone through the simple steps to file for their water rights.  You might also be surprised to learn that when it comes to regulation of drinking water or gravel mining, the state DEC only regulates public and community drinking water systems. It is a self test process and not any scary regulator in a white lab coat and clip board traveling all over the borough to check it out.  They do not regulate individual wells at ALL which remains much of the borough residents drinking water supply.  So what happens if the drinking water quality or quantity is compromised and who bears the burden of proof?  Yeah you got me. Proving your rights in this day and age doesn’t come cheap, and years of litigation with big time gravel operators who have deep financial resources and years of buying and hauling bottled water isn’t in many folks monthly budget.  Not having some sizeable bond or insurance in place by operators, if any amount was enough to protect landowners, gave past assemblies enough heart burn to kick the can further down the road for someone else to decide.   The other big sticking point in this bowl of gravel porridge is reclamation. Not your normal everyday subject of conversation so just what is it?  Basically it’s the rules of the road of rehabilitating the land after gravel is removed.  Without clear rules how is a gravel operator to know what is expected when reclamation is implemented and why do we care?  Well there are the obvious.  After the land is pealed back and the gravel removed, you have what most would agree is a huge impact both visually and environmentally.  It’s important that land be returned to the best possible condition for use after gravel mining is completed for dozens of reasons.  Expect to hear some assembly shout outs about the borough duplicating and exceeding reclamation standards and plans but the problem is the state has about two paragraphs addressing this.  If you don’t believe me put on your geek hat and see AS 27.19.020 reclamation standards and AS 27.19.030 reclamation plans.  A drive around the borough will tell you the state doesn’t give a dittle about reclamation or enforcement of what they do have on the books.  You have to ask yourself why this assembly loves the state rules instead of having their own other than providing somewhere else to point the finger at when things go terribly wrong. Contrary to some opinions this should not be about stopping gravel extraction in the borough, or being anti-development.  It should be about taking a pro-active approach when it comes to protecting our water table, dust control and land left for the next generation and not settling for another round of “that’s good enough”.  We should also keep in mind that although the state taxes and collects royalties it’s a pittance, and the Borough taxpayers get nothing. The last effort in 2005 for the borough to collect a materials tax to provide some mitigation funds for roads etc from the impact of mining went down in flames when the big check books came out from the industry to fight the initiative. According to APOC in just one 7 day period $41,000 was contributed by just 7 businesses and given to a committee whose job it was to kill the initiative. This is an industry not used to be told what to do.  And that was in 2005 when corporations hadn’t been deemed people by the Supreme Court.  This is all the more reason to have some sound protections for residents in place when it comes to digging big holes. We should have enough examples to draw from to have our own standards while supplying and benefiting from a great resource like gravel. Residents and the gravel industry should both be able to profit and still count on turning on the tap in every corner of the borough to good clean water period.  

So, you say you want to vote?
The other steaming bowl at the end of the buffet for the upcoming meeting is ordinance 11-157 regarding the definition of community councils brought forward by our ceremonial mayor.  This innocent looking ordinance could be a game changer to who the borough and state listen to speaking for communities.  With this legislation the mayor hopes to give community councils the ability to change up democracy Devilbiss Style expanding the definition to allow landowners (no matter where they reside) as well as residents the ability to be voting members in local community council matters.  This “expansion” much like some waists after turkey day has far reaching implications if passed.  Potentially one person, business or corporation that owns property in all of the 23 council areas could vote on council issues and even if they don’t live in the borough determine the community’s stance on a multitude of issues. One has to ask what the mayor has in mind with this legislation.  A return to when only white land-owning (perish the thought of women) could vote?  Sheesh…

These are two very big issues voters can’t not afford to not pay attention to.  It’s very possible that December 6th the assembly will experience a case of ground hog day and much like the tower ordinance take off all regulation for gravel extraction.  It’s also possible that we will slide back to the day of land barons that determined how all the peasants lived according to their rules by whose votes we count.  
Time to saddle up and have your voice heard or you might just wake up to the sounds of hoofs that have taken away all your rights to clean water, a peaceful existence and the right to vote on your community issues.   

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dancin with the stars assembly style...

Much like the wind there is no way to ever estimate the unpredictability of this supposed non partisan assembly's actions. Here's how Tuesday nights sock hop went. 

First the Foxtrot…

The Point MacKenzie SPUD got a unanimous thumbs up after some tweaking by those long arms from China again. There has been lots of discussion about what to allow and what is considered a compatible use as this document weaved its way through the port commission and to the assembly.  Items specifically off the list of allowable activities are adult businesses, alcoholic beverage sales, correctional community residential centers, race tracks and residential dwelling units.  Guess the message is NO adult fun along with libations followed by treatment while visiting a race track or moving in.  In conclusion, assembly member Arvin was able to add  amendments allowing light, medium and heavy manufacturing, natural resource extraction processing and refining and “workers camps for the term of the project".  It’s not specified if that's a 6 month or 6 year project and every effort to set a standard was voted down. But pretty sure there won’t be drink and dancing in camps for an undetermined amount of time. 

Then the Quick Step..

Or better known as VETO dance with the assembly.  It seems the mayor spent the afternoon getting some enlightenment from the finance director about the risk of lowering the bond rating the borough receives by taking this action.    Instead of saving tax payers money it could have the substantial reverse effect by costing taxpayers more in interest rates as we borrow money for the recently passed bonds for schools and roads.  Apparently this basic finance 101 fact had escaped the mayor and although he wasn't ready to pull his veto off the table he was putting it a little off to the side for the assembly to decide with this new information. A bit of a slow waltz ensued and another mayor veto was overturned as the mayor only found a lone Salmon in his bend of the stream.  

Then Slide…. 

The next dancing partner was the City of Wasilla which was there to seal the deal for the deed of borough land at the corner of Swanson and Crusey Street for a shiny new public library. It made an easy glide across the school board dance floor and made its way to the assembly floor looking like a shoe in for a perfect score of 10. But the pirouette fell flat on the assembly desk when assembly member Colver introduced a last minute lengthy amendment costume change.  A slow, passionate tango led by assembly member Colligan changed the music and gave direction to the manager to bring back language and comparisons for both a long term $1.00 a year lease and deed transfer.  The argument for the lease was preserving this high dollar asset for all borough residents and not setting precedence for other land grabs. And then there is the elephant on the dance floor with the continuing debate on the level of financial support libraries get from the borough and taxpayer which almost no one agrees on. Some dancers in the audience were clearly disappointed as they are forced to keep the music playing for another day.

And then..The Hand Jive

The real performance everyone was sitting on the edge of their seat for was Resolution 11-153 adding to the policy and procedures of the assembly and mayor referred to as the housekeeping portion of the recital.  The majority of the dancers stumbled on the amendment by assembly member Keogh to require members to tuck their cell phone away during assembly meetings thus prohibiting communication between, to and from the assembly members while they are sitting at the table doing the people’s business. New assembly member Colligan, not a fan of rules or regulation and fresh off new assembly training wondered just where “we are going to stop”.  Assembly member Salmon cut in right away by suggesting this part of the legislation “bordered on the ridiculous” and he didn’t need to be “ordained”  to be asked to put his cell phone away.  The long arm of China seemed a bit confused about some missing dance steps perhaps and inquired why this was even an issue. Awkwardly assembly member Arvin was informed that part of it was spurred on by his own action exposed at a prior assembly meeting while texting another member. Maybe it was too late, early or a gloomy day in China but the none too happy assembly member Arvin described the incident as unfortunate, but then forcefully responded by letting the body know he would text “whoever I want, and whenever I want”. Well then. That might be a dramatic and appealing way to register one’s opinion, but I think someone needs a nap.  We’re talking about doing the people’s business and as assembly member Keogh tried to explain to deaf ears that it’s problematic for a myriad of pretty apparent reasons.  Things like the public’s right to know, potential for abuse, and expectation of a fair balanced discussion and  the importance of establishing rules of decorum and cleaning up the way the assembly does business.  All dancers scurried off the dance floor except assembly member Keogh left doing a low light solo. 

And finally…the Rumba…

The end of the meeting brought conformation of the mayor’s choice for the planning commission, ex radio station owner John Klapperich.  Assembly member Salmon congratulated the City of Wasilla for having the best tasting water perhaps as a concession for not leaving the room with a library.  Colver mentioned it was the chairs job to run the meeting and he didn’t think they needed to get down in the weeds, referring to the attempt to check texting at the door and perhaps they could handle it much like the legislature (that by the way doesn’t operate under the open meetings act) and just bring donuts when the phone or text goes off. So there you have it.  No citizen voice pie for you.  You’ll have to settle for donuts.

About the entire dance performance most could take.  But you can count on their being another one especially after all the chaperones are dismissed and clearly there aren’t enough now.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Citizen Voice Pie...

Tasty morsels of assembly pie are sometimes buried down near the bottom and in some cases items won't make it in until right before the final crust is tucked on with those fancy edges and popped in the oven. On tomorrow night's assembly agenda is Resolution 11-153 that is presented as a bit of housekeeping brought forward from legislation passed earlier this year regarding policy and procedures of the assembly and mayor.  

The resolution is using the assembly whisk broom to sweep up and insert another "whereas clause" because we know resolutions can never have enough of those. This one makes it clear that this current resolution supersedes all prior resolutions until well ...the next time to supersede. Another item to go in the dustpan is removal of language from a time when audience participation occurred after the consent agenda and with the new sheriff and posse in town that pretty much occurs now before the consent agenda with no set time so there is no reason to keep any unneeded public comment clogging up the assembly water wheel. 

Couple of bouncing balls to keep your eye on tomorrow night.  Assembly member Keogh has introduced an amendment to be added to the legislation (D) During meetings, use of laptop computers, cell phones or other mobile communication devices by assembly members and the mayor to communicate with a person or entity is prohibited.  And it's not because the assemblyman isn't a fan of technology.  

Right before Alaska was wrapped tight around the wheel of the Veco scandal there was a now famous speech from former House Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz  that said in part  "this is our floor. No telephone call is supposed to change what we're doing.  No lobbyist is suppose to peer over the railing and tell us to change our mind.  It never should happen"  and oh boy was he right. The light came on and a few legislators ended up with new   undesirable forwarding address.   

In the borough we are without the rail and a few less lobbyists but there was an assembly meeting not long ago that might have spurred assembly member Keogh to attempt to include this amendment now.  That meeting during an at ease called by the mayor one assembly member from his seat in China asked another member seated at the table to "return his text". Unfortunately for him but fortunately for the public his teleconferenced call was still coming in loud and clear. It gave everyone pause then and should now. So just what was going on beyond the public venue? It became abundantly clear that technology has rushed past legislation and this amendment is an attempt to correct that. It is to ensure that all communication, to, from Assembly members while the Assembly members are sitting at the table is known to the public. Hopefully even the most ethically challenged will see the sense in adopting this policy for the mayor and assembly.  If it does give a member pause well then that should give voters pause. Surely we can put down our electronic leashes long enough to do the people's business in a transparent way.  

What else might be added to the "pie" before its popped in the oven in the name of house-keeping or efficiency we won't know until tomorrow night.  Providing opportunity for the public to weigh in doesn't seem to be a big priority for some members of this assembly and it might make some "boiling mad". It is also possible some additional language cranking down on that pesky public comment period even more might be introduced.  Not allowing the public to weigh in might work well to further political or ideological agendas, but its a costly mistake in so many ways.  We'll save that soap box for another post.  Pretty clear that opportunity will present itself all too frequently. 

If you can't convince yourself that throwing on your warmest puffy jacket to attend tomorrow's MSB assembly meeting starting at 6pm you can always tune in to Radio Free Palmer who will be streaming it. At least you will be able to hear what's going in the pie.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"VETO" Latin for forbid...

MSB assembly meeting Tuesday is another big fat VETO from our borough ceremonial mayor. This time the wrath of the veto pen is an ordinance that was passed by that other assembly and sponsored by assembly member Halter.  But as we know that other assembly is out the swinging door and now the mayor has a new full set of back up dancers. 

So what is the ordinance that has gotten the mayor's crown knocked a little sideways so that he wants yet another “do over”? Well it's the borough residents’ insurance fund in case of a natural disaster. You know the cash that is waiting when Mother Nature decides to get our attention without a reservation.  Not that we have many of those being a earth-quake, wind, volcano free zone and all. Yeah no chance of any or those leading to any financial, environmental or human losses. 

The adopted ordinance raises the disaster reserve from $750,000.00 to $1,250.000.  That's the money the borough holds under lock and key just in case a local catastrophe occurs. That means the borough has ready cash to come to the aid of citizen's instead of waiting for someone's helicopter to warm up to check it out and cut loose the state or fed pocketbook. If they do. Of course we all know that's a lightning quick process right?  

Apparently the mayor is convinced that the borough already tries to "anticipate" disaster and the lower limit is good enough. Heck, we don't need any extra cash if he's wrong. Him being a carrot farmer and all with expertise and a P.H.D. in disasters. Oh and in his memo to the clerk his description of disasters are "man made or natural" with a pair of parenthesis around "or supernatural for that matter".  Holy cow bat man!   I see dead people. 

Our mayor is confident that the borough "has insurance".  Something we should note a third of Alaskans don’t enjoy.  Those of us that do have insurance all know how easy that claim and reimbursement thingy is and how insurance companies have a history especially of late, of coughing up cash like a cat with a hairball.  Plus our ceremonial mayor has complete confidence in a "can do" attitude that lets him pull the Scarlet O'Hara “I just can't think about that today I'll think about it tomorrow” card out of his deck and bet that communities will “deal with issues as they arise".  

But now we get to the soggy patty of beef on the issue. 

Mayor Devilbiss advises that he has "experts" although he doesn't identify them, tell him that having a bigger reserve for disasters is an excess and is just another case of ....Wait for it.  "Over Taxation".  

Ah.  The real burr in the saddle of this carrot farmer.  We can't be filling the coffers with any tax money.  No sir.  Even if it’s a savings for that disaster our ceremonial mayor can see isn't coming.

Time to get out your Ouija board and make sure there are enough roots in the cellar. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Buyer's Remorse

Wikipedia describes "buyers remorse"   to be rooted in various factors, such as: the person's concern they purchased the wrong product, purchased it for too high a price, purchased a current model now rather than waiting for a newer model, purchased in an ethically unsound way, purchased on credit that will be difficult to repay, or purchased something that would not be acceptable to others.  For fun lets see if any of that applies to the MSB assembly (less one lone NO vote from Keogh) who took the giant leap last week by eliminating any tower/tall structure ordinance in the borough. 

Too high a price?  We seem to be caught up in the national dialog that all regulation is too high a price to pay.  When you drill it down is it just today's piggy bank or should we be considering what the price will be later as we kill all attempts to be pro-active and get ahead of the potential problem now?  Are we not just sending the cost of correction down the bunny trail and on to  some other generations debit card with sky high interest when we decide then this supposed government over reach is a under reach?  Who really has the ability to say that by allowing anything to happen is a good outcome looking down the road in 5, 10 or 20 years?  Even Clark Kent doesn't have that kinda vision. 

Did the borough purchase the wrong product?  By their own testimony industry leaders were willing to work with some kind of ordinance.  Business is always going after things to be a little more to their liking and financial benefit but by killing any regulation as this pro business assembly has done are they doing business any favors? Is what the assembly is flaying around to protect really provide any certainty of investment?  Business wants assurance to plan for the future not by today's whims or sound bites. Even the biggest players know rules and regulations swing like a naked ring master on a trapeze in the political wind.  They want the certainty that logical rules are in place to make their long range decisions. 

Did we all pay too high a price?  Working groups of volunteers spent from 2007-2011 collaborating on this ordinance.  Let's all have a moment for a collective shudder at the staff time and resources that went into getting to this point.  Resources that could have gone to other things that went without. Volunteers from the industry and community that took the time away from their own projects to lend a hand and a voice to this one. 

Okay I'm really starting to itch...

Purchased a current model rather than waiting for a newer model?  The current assembly seemingly cares a diddle about what prior assemblies or public input wanted before the recent crowning.  Are we all forced to now watch the unraveling of all legislation that doesn't have this current assembly stamp on it?  What gives one body the power to decide for all former and future bodies that their way is best? 

Purchased in a ethical sound way?  With the ethics ordinance blowing in the wind who knows right?  Was it decided by text at the table? Was it traded for some other shiny object as part of a bigger agenda?  Yikes do we even want to know? 

Purchased on credit that will be difficult to pay or something that's not acceptable to others?  Legislation should be about the next generation not the next election or wrapped around the axle of a bigger personal or political ideology.  Our assembly is suppose to be non partisan and not follow a political party agenda. Doesn't killing off any and all regulation fall head first into a current political platform?  Yeah that's what I thought. 

The assembly additionally eliminated the need for a land use permit in the majority of cases in the borough.  Unless you live in what's considered a FEMA flood zone and don't plan on constructing less than 75 feet of a water body your pretty much good to go without a permit.  In excess of 600 permits were issued by the borough last year for the token fee of $25.00-$50.00.  Many of them were not because permits were required but by folks wanting to make sure they were building in the right location on their property and not too close to an easement, setbacks etc to AVOID problems down the bunny trail.  Taking the time and making the investment now to assure that when they were ready to sell they weren't sitting smack in the middle of a big expensive problem that prevented their sale or cost them a wad of cash. Again being pro-active to insure their property values were protected. 

So there you have it.  The tower ordinance is all over but the crying.  Or is it?  Will sensibility rise from the ashes and at least bring back the old ordinance for a place holder until cooler heads prevail? Will the assembly revisit the land use permit issue and decide that having the assurance that all things are where they should be when we build now instead of later might be just the ounce of prevention we should be encouraging as an investment in our future? 

Many more questions than answers.  Stay tuned.  Meanwhile we might think about adding to our shopping cart representation that give us a whole lot of  less buyer's remorse or really no remorse.  

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Oh quit whinin

Its not even close to tax day but lets talk about those evil property taxes.  Since pretty much every decision our assembly is making these days is wrapped around the axle of cutting property taxes for the over burdened property owner that can't afford his simple abode, we really should pull up a chair and chat. Yep even though the cries of "we don't give a dang how they do it outside" are already swelling up in some throats lets just see what a little google search shows on how we size up.

A little pause for history..Alaska as we know has no state income tax which in many states holds down the local mill rates.  We did away with that little irritation shortly after oil starting gushing up out of the ground in Prudhoe Bay.  Up until that geyser broke Alaskans were paying 14.5% income tax the highest in the nation.  Now we are one of only 9 states whose residents pay no income tax. Nothing. Nada. North Dakota that we hear so much about?  You know the state we are worried might be ripping the drilling rigs right out from under us? Yeah well they aren't on the list of no pay states.  They pay up to nearly 5% in  income tax.

But since income tax is off the table lets look into that pesky property tax since were all being told that's the real Darth Vader in the lives of borough residents. It is just making some assembly members "boiling mad" and supposedly driving hard working folks out of their homes in droves. Forcing folks to leave the Mat Su Borough.  Didn't see the tango line of packed pick ups and U Hauls? Yeah me either.

Alaska is the only state in the union where a large portion of the state residents that live here are not subjected to property tax at all.  Set up that way many years ago with the rationality that there wasn't the tax base in those areas large enough to support a property tax and it is still so today with seemingly little appetite in the political landscape to change things. So of the 18 boroughs only 14 levy a property tax and only 11 cities located outside the borough's levy a additional mill tax. Palmer is one of them and Wasilla since it has become king of the strip malls and big box stores has replaced its small mill rate with a big fat zero counting on sales tax to fill the city coffers. Long and short of it is the "no stinking property tax" part of the state either supplements with sales tax or the state does the heavy lifting.

Another little piece of the factoid pie is deductions.  By state mandate homeowners 65 and older or surviving spouses are exempt from property tax on the first $150,000 in assessed value of their property.  This also applies to disabled veterans. Reimbursement from the state was supposed to be made up by this wildly politically popular mandate but that's where the bouncing ball stopped many years ago.  In just the last assembly meeting approval was given  to exempt 28 properties to take about $3,244,577  off the property tax rolls. And that is just the part that was asking for divine intervention from the assembly to include them in a much larger roll of exempt properties for various reasons. Since 1990 when the state decided to offer this tax break they have piled up over 37 million in unfunded mandates on the shoulders of the property tax payers of the borough. The check for reimbursement of this state mandate is not in the mail.  But in the list of state legislative priorities just passed by the sitting assembly among the wishes for rail, roads, bridges is there a priority to collect this debt and relieve the burden off local taxpayers? Nope.

Back to our friends in North Dakota where at least one big contractor based in the borough and frequently absent member of the port commission has gotten weary of waiting for the next big Alaska project and moved his toys where the rush is on.  According to the Tax Foundation  Alaska ranked in comparison to other states in local and state taxes with the highest rate of property tax being number 46 out of 50. Not the bottom of the ladder but just a few rungs up.  North Dakotan folks pull number 30 of the 50. They still have property tax, income tax, sin taxes and they don't enjoy that "hey maybe I can afford a big screen tv" permanent dividend  fund check every year given to folks for calling Alaska home.  Oh but wait there is a gold rush of good paying jobs.  That's the good news.  The bad news is there is no where to live in North Dakota and rent, food and just about anything else has doubled.  Too bad they didn't call the master of gold rush states for some advise. Could have told them to start printing that "please give us another chance to make millions" bumper sticker that they will need when its over and everyone pulls up stakes and leaves for another sucker.

The point is we are being fed this ongoing continuous drivel of "out of control property taxes" in between the rant of "out of control regulation" and we need to put a stop to it. The hand writing is on the wall that in order to set the foundation to lay off a whole host of people at the borough this budget season, this fairy tale must be continued and be repeated and there are plenty of talking heads on the now veto proof assembly that are more than happy to do it. It's not rocket science.  No regulation, no workers, no problem.

This is your borough its time to take the dialog back folks.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Surveyor Stimulus Bill

Tonight the Assembly takes up revisions to the mandatory land use permit, and general standards for flood hazard reduction by assembly member Colver whose full time business is as a land surveyor.  Colver dons his cape to bring part of his bigger plan to revise the subdivision code to "stimulate the economy of the borough through regulatory reform" .  Not sure how to put into words the implications of changing this process now in this increased era of eliminating anything and all things that SOME perceive as standing in the way of regaining or adding to their fat cat status and how its being done.  We do know that SOME assembly members have a pretty messy process and reputation for leaving a large stinky unwanted wake of the expected eventual outcome.

Special meeting starts at the borough at 6pm tonight.  Still seeing if I can muster the courage after what happened Tuesday with the tower ordinance to sit through another expected not so good outcome. Who knew there were limits to the weekly intake of the churning of local legislation.   Am hearing report there will be scouts on the ground though.. Before you head to the meeting you might want to thumb through the packet

It's a dozy!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Martha pack up your ermines its time to leave...

Assembly meeting got off to a roaring start last night by Mayor Devilbiss informing the full audience that this was an historic meeting of the "only legislative body in the Matsu Borough" . Who knew right?  Sorry cities apparently your now just what might be honorable mention status?  Clearly the mayor is happy to have a majority number of his supporters at the horseshoe. 

First up was the Talkeetna Water and Sewer increase.  With only 188 users on the system there is a struggle to continue the service that operates in the red.  Not too many fireworks here and in the end Halter was able to buy some more time for the northern folks by postponing a decision until December 20th. Ah another kicking tin can.  Staff is instructed to come back with some suggestions for balancing the books that probably doesn't include more costs to users. Someone up the order of fairy dust.  

Remember that tin can disguised as a Tower Ordinance requested by the OTHER Assembly that has been kicked down the road since 2007 with working groups, hours of public and industry input, staff work, paid consultants, and no shortage of opinions?  Hope you didn't get too attached. And they say towers don't fall down.  This one did. 

The ham radio operators turned up the heat in the room with passionate testimony about the service they provide and the "why are you picking on us with these big guys" and they were quickly plucked out of the ordinance that was already gasping for air. There was more testimony from a lawyer/ representative from GCI and members of the working group appreciating the process and still hoping for a little more time or tweeking at the table before passage.  Assembly member Colligan was "boiling mad with this crap" and this "damn over regulated" stuff and was happy to share his feelings about how "view shed doesn't have a right"  and he would like to "vote to get rid of the thing right now". Alrighty then! Post haste those long arms from China (Arvin) seized the moment to offer a series of motions and amendments to put the carving knife in the tower ordinance. Colored that done. NO more tower ordinance in the borough at all.  The only regulations are what the feds that we love to hate impose. No local control or more importantly public notice for towers, their size, set backs or appearance what so ever. The only one more relieved than the industry big guns that left the room shaking their heads was assembly member Colver that was able to rejoin the horseshoe after successfully being able to recluse himself from the discussion.

Musical chairs continued as assembly member Colligan was able to avoid being boiling mad again and recluse himself from the next discussion on changes to the noise ordinance. Model airplane enthusiast lined up to successfully support their guy assemblyman Woods in shepherding that roll back.  No waste no haste in trying to find any middle ground here either. 

Sometimes all the real fun comes at the end with comments from the horseshoe when ego's get up for a real seventh inning stretch. Salmon having a new stint sitting in a chair not designated for the mayor (in case you were sleeping was a former MSB mayor) was "excited about the direction of the borough being open for business" which seems to be a required mantra for every meeting much like the pledge. Halter seemed to be in a bit of befuddlement and "didn't know what to think about the tower ordinance" defeat.  Woods was simply giddy about model airplanes.  Colver was quite spun up about regional port authorities after a recent trip to Georgia where it turns out is the home to more than hoop skirts. Colligan was still apparently boiling mad about towers and getting down the road of the previous assembly with a noise ordinance and both being "hideous" and "legal bullshit".  Arvin shared his continuing apparition to undo ordinances and codes brought about by "emotional factors". 

Mayor Devilbiss who is making the radio talk show circuit this week ended the comments by cheering on the assembly for being "bold" and working well together. Quite happy with the way the last shovel of dirt was spread over the tower ordinance to kill the "California zoning" concept. Although not boiling mad, not a fan of view sheds either.  Apparently when you start recommending view sheds and set backs there is no going back and trees are next.  

The eye rolling and chair squirming hit its peak when it was announced that cell phones and texting by assembly members at the horseshoe with the concern about the open meetings act will be tackled by Keough as part of the simmering legislation the mayor advises he is bringing forth to address "standard rules and procedures" of the meeting process. You know this and that plus taking a look at that pesky public hearings issue so we can "condense meetings to make them as short as possible". 

So much fun was had by this all boys club they get together twice this week.  Thursday brings on mandatory land use and flood plain reduction.  Really can you stand the fun? 


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Assembly Meeting Tonight

Just a reminder that MSB Assembly meets tonight to chew up and spit out some interesting legislation.  The fun and frolic starts at 6pm and you can find the full agenda and packet at

Cliff notes posted above of my quick run through  with some expected highlights.  If you just can't get away from the leftover Halloween candy and throw your coat on to come yourself you can always listen online at starting at 6pm. Something to do while the paint dries.  You wont get all the arm waiving, side glances, and lip reading but let your imagination run wild!

Word has it the mayor has had his veto pen busy again.  This time in regards of legislation that was narrowly passed last meeting regarding keeping a set amount in the general fund balance sponsored by Assembly members Halter and Keough.  Increasing  the reserve from $750,000 to 1.2M  for emergencies and to maintain the borough bond rating seemed pretty cut and dried and seemingly the self proclaimed fiscally conservative mayor went along with it.  Perhaps a trip to the wood shed changed his mind.  Your guess is as good as mine but when I pick myself off the floor after the meeting tonight will make an effort to let you know.