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Thursday, May 31, 2012

PLAYIN POKER WITH THE PEOPLE'S MONEY







Thanks for asking...There was a bit of recovering required from bearing witness to the good, bad and the really ugly yearly borough budget process and trying to process it before making it your nightmare. A process your assembly and keeper of the borough checkbook has placed in the crying towel file after some messy deliberations, a nudge of ceremonial mayor vetoes and what might be a record level of bloviating.

One thing is clear. This year’s budget is way less about money and way more about moving forward a radical rightwing conservative dogma. Touted as just the medicine the borough needs for a wildly successful economic future.  Except for the part that… it isn't. 

The Great Bloviators Have Spoken  dare to take note and action

If you want the official borough statement that dutifully comes from the borough public affairs office you can read it on the borough website.  Like every press release there are parts that they want you to know and the parts you just SHOULD know that the press release doesn’t release.  Our job is to fill in some of the parts the official statement leaves out.  The part they don't tell you and you don't know.  Unless you gave up several of your evenings to sit in borough chambers to watch the high stakes poker game funded in large part by your property tax dollars that this assembly was elected to be stewards of.  This is where you start weeping.

The press release lauding the final budget states, "The budget was reconsidered by Deputy Mayor Ron Arvin as he wanted to lower the mill rate".  Noble move if Mr. Arvin had a deep concern only about property owners pocketbooks. But like much with the radical members of this assembly there is more to it. In this case it is this little rarely understood thing called the "revenue cap".  Without going into a long history lesson here, the assembly in 2005 responded and headed off a citizen initiative to invoke a tax cap. Instead they passed an ordinance restricting the growth of borough government by linking it to a "revenue cap".  By setting a revenue cap the former assembly clearly recognized the demand that was certain to come with increases of population and insistence for future services as well as the importance of not hamstringing future assemblies to a political blood battle.  This played out last year when the previous assembly wanted to show restraint with budget cuts with a little political favor was garnered for themselves. They then applied several million dollars from the state in community revenue sharing dollars but added it to the budget as a rebate to property taxpayers  after the mill rate was set. Apparently they didn’t want to disturb the revenue cap while at the same time fooling the taxpayer into believing they got a discount. This year along comes Mr. Arvin with his own plan to hobble the government he loves to hate and to the delight of the conservative patriots enlists his majority power broker assembly brethren to add the big share of current state community revenue sharing funds into the final budget and slams the revenue cap in the door with it.  Confused yet? That's what Mr. Arvin and his supporters are hoping for. He doesn’t get it that the state might not feel so generous next year similar to a year in recent memory where the state gave no revenues to communities to assist in their development. Nope. What difference will it make in property tax bills next year that the rebate is set within the mill rate and not as a rebate after the rate is set? Nothing. Not a penny this year. The difference will come in coming years as future assemblies struggle to provide for the certain demand for services and now are faced with a tax cap instead of a revenue cap.

Its a Big Deal

Thanks go to a couple of power hungry, anti-government, starve the beast assembly members for this well orchestrated move. Mr. Arvin even acknowledged that most likely a future assembly will need to have the political courage to make any changes to the tax cap that he has created. It's a big deal and do you know why no one is making a big deal about it?  Because like we said it’s not about the money, it’s about the doctrine of political personal poison moving through our borough government that will cost us all money in the end.  Count on some serious reflection next budget season when another flat budget will be looming and no election hanging over the heads of the members of the assembly who need to serve up just a tiny piece of the pie to satisfy some tastes for things like education, infrastructure repair, tourism, health and human services matching grant monies and even routine and expected services from local government.  Remember, if you starve the beast your almost certain of a lousy service level which gives the koolaid drinking Cato Institute lovers of free markets just what they want, a crappy governing body.  And it’s all fun and games until the Cato lovers need government to come to their rescue.

While we're on the topic of toxic doctrines let’s look at the ceremonial mayor's failed veto of the borough's membership to the Alaska Municipal League that again had nothing to do with the money.  For those that haven't heard of AML, it is a voluntary, nonprofit, nonpartisan, statewide organization of 140 cities, boroughs, and unified municipalities, representing over 98 percent of Alaska's municipalities.  They support oil and gas development, supports adequate funding for residential and small businesses, opposes unfunded state and federal mandates, supports revenue sharing from the state, provides training, networking opportunities and joint services to strengthen local governments so they have  a unified voice. What could be wrong with being part of that group right? Well according to Mr. Arvin the lone assembly vote supporting the mayors failed veto, AML is just a "liberal, socialist organization".  Once again, ideology not money. 

One Man Bands Lookin for a Road Show

It wouldn't be surprising if a resolution comes forward suggesting a renaming of "Hatcher Pass "to "Colver Pass".  Fresh from his success in gutting the subdivision code, Assemblyman Colver successfully created another surveyor stimulus entity by nabbing some fat funding for surveying for future residential development in the still evolving MSB Hatcher Pass Recreation Venue even though the Development and Asset management plan is still out for public comment and far from approved. Waiting for the end of a public process has never been a strong suit for Mr Colver who is just itchin to get a truckload of levels and lasers up there post haste and the fact that he himself is a surveyor has nothing to do with it.  Wink, Wink.  This one is about the money and pockets waiting to be filled.

Then there is that pesky emergency dispatch study.  Normally the suggestion of a study or plan of any sort sends a shudder through the assembly chambers.  But apparently this doesn't apply if it’s the pet project of Assemblyman Colligan who has made it no secret his intention is to eliminate the Palmer Dispatch Center and build a consolidated dispatch empire in his own district of Wasilla.  Certain that $300,000 of borough taxpayer money will give him the report that substantiates his vision to mirror cities like Portland and San Diego apparently because we have so much in common with those areas he wasn't in the mood to suffer fools on the subject. How he plans to convince the state who would be part of the consolidation to buy in to this vision isn't clear, but his impatience being questioned on the subject is.  He had even less tolerance for questions about the $50,000 for yet another EMS performance and management study even though the pages have yet to be really turned on the $35,000 report commissioned in 2008.  Those findings were ignored and referred to as "superficial", but Mr. Colligan who normally can be counted on to turn crimson red at the suggestion of taxpayer money being spent for any planning is now the reining godfather of about the only plan being considered at the borough.  So there’s your memo borough tax payers. Plans are the order of the day if they are ordered up by the right assemblyman.

Representing Palmer, Assemblyman  Woods' lone amendment for nearly $300,000 was for the port and preventative repair of the little used dock. It makes us wonder if he knows he is no longer a member of the port commission but representing the people of Palmer on the assembly. In all fairness to Woods he clearly wasn't enthralled with the direction this budget went and the extremists guiding it that only a few months ago he was looking forward to serving with.  We feel your pain Mr. Woods.

More Ferry Dust?

No budget would be complete without a dust up on the now borough owned ferry.  Expect the dried docked darling to become the excuse for everything that ails the borough and the repeated finger pointing to continue.  This topic got loud enough to poke the sleeping bear. Assemblyman Salmon makes no excuses being the borough mayor during the time the borough decided to accept federal money to build a ferry. In no uncertain terms he was quick this time to remind Mr. Arvin, the main finger pointer, that he himself was indeed a member of the port commission that voted along with everyone else to move the ferry project forward.  Salmon rightfully added that he was tiring of this never ending blame game.  He stated that according to his calculations several assemblies and 3 other mayors had an opportunity to kill the project in the last 15 years as it perked along and didn't. He added that it might be time to change the conversation about the endless costs to the borough and concentrate on what the ferry can bring in revenue if it is put in use for which it was built. Not discussed but certainly a huge factor in the continuous ferry bashing is the fact that Mr. Arvin has led the charge for the borough to support the KABATA bridge project.  The bridge is much more to his liking although public polls don't agree.  The magical financing supporters of the bridge have brought to the table issues that have raised the ire of the Senate.  Mr. Arvin has a long record from his tenure on the port commission of going down the rabbit hole voting along with everyone else in approving the construction of the ferry and accepting the big checks from the federal government to build what was to be the first step in connecting the borough to Anchorage to lead to the bridge of the future. But that was then and this is now. Like it or not the people of the  borough are the new proud parents of a floating prototype ferry that few have seen and most would like to forget. Time for some big boy panties some might say.

Time to Buck Up or Not

Armed with the opinion of a new economic director with no evidence of how the level the borough was collecting its business inventory tax, or how it was hindering development and deferring new business, the assembly successfully jacked up the minimum business inventory tax the borough will be able to collect in the coming year. They are again betting on the borough without this supposed hideous tax will become a warehouse mecca that dovetails with the new rail spur.  The rail spur that isn't built yet but partially funded.  So instead of collecting from the 68 businesses that the borough now collects inventory tax for at $250,000 it will only be able to tap into 20 at $1M in inventory.  Guess who will get to shoulder the loss?  That's right the property tax payers or the other 98% this group professes to protect. Assembly member Colligan pointed this out several times then voted for it. Huh?

What we have is a radical right leaning majority of the assembly holding the people of the borough hostage for their friends in Big Business who they are hoping and betting the farm on coming and setting up business in the valley.  You know, those same assembly members who endlessly remind us to trust in the huge never ending investment in the port and any other mega project that is their flavor of the day. Hopefully the post office will be delivering your thank you note from Walmart, Fred Meyer's, Safeway, Target etc thanking you for helping their bottom line.  Or maybe contributing just a little more to their CEO pay who combined in just these big four is in excess of $60M. Now that part is about the money. 

And lastly some funthere were some sound bites that just cannot be left unshared;

"I don't see anywhere on our strategic plan that driveway permits are a priority around here Assembly member Colver

Really Mr. Colver? Funny we don't see where the strategic plan suggests months of time and mountains of expense to gut the subdivision code and roll back to one pulled out of the 80's either.  Just sayin...

"This is not a theater-serious business going on here."  Assembly member Arvin

We saw the curl of Mr. Arvin's lip when he spat this out. We all get the part that he doesn't like to be challenged by public testimony especially by a former assembly member that is following his actions. Is it us or is Mr. Arvin particularly aggressively angry these days?

And we saved the best for last from Assembly member Colligan referring to the actions of past assemblies and the ferry once again…

If it was a business decision Id be lawyering up and setting shit on fire on this

THE BOTTOM LINE

The budget is probably the single biggest piece of legislation that our assembly and ceremonial mayor take up every year.  It guides the tone of development, the ability to sustain what services we already have, protects and builds on the borough’s ability to borrow money not to mention deal with unforeseen emergencies and uncharted growth.  But the majority seated at  the current assembly table has the checkbook and the crystal ball.  Unfortunately for us all it’s now in a box wrapped in their own radical ideology and desperation for re-election without a bow. That is the real toxic mix.

We need to insist on a more deliberate approach to public spending and public money and not one that furthers personal ideology about how much certain members hate government with one hand, while rewarding “Big Government”, using borough savings for pet projects, or rewarding voter blocks of favored friends and constituents with the other. Let’s start by electing an assembly that relies on creating actual value for borough taxpayers and has the community’s best interest in mind.

By the way if you missed this column by Charlie Hayes in the Frontiersman you need to read it.  It sums up what we have described here way better than we can from a valued valley treasure.





Friday, May 11, 2012

THEY SAY IT’S NOT OVER TILL IT’S OVER








So, you ask, is the budget all signed sealed and ready for the wrath of the ceremonial mayor veto pen? Everyone wants to know who or what project is on the sacrificial lamb list but you will need to wait just a little longer. Because the budget process like just about everything this assembly does creates more questions than answers.

Assemblyman Arvin made a guest appearance from China to actually warm a chair at the horseshoe during borough budget deliberations this week.  He had the pedal to the metal to push the assembly to finish their work after two special evening meetings and 29 amendments to an already painfully conservative flat borough budget were passed.

Just like every budget year the assembly giveth and they taketh away. Often the proverbial shell game is used to move funds from one spot to another spot that is likely more supportive of an assembly members own district or perhaps a quest for empire building. However, some would claim it is really based on satisfying future voters in upcoming elections.  All par for the course and this year is no exception.

Oops, Wait a Minute There

Mr. Arvin then promptly filed a notice to reconsider  the motion to adopt the budget the very next day with the clerk.

Buyer’ remorse or deeper darker out of the public view motive to create more sound bites, press releases in an election year or pick off a few more victims not dancing to the tune of the orchestra leader? The frontiersman is reporting that "after voting for the budget he spent time agonizing over it. “The budget contains a hike — albeit a small one  — in taxes over last year”. Huh? Say what? We know his district has become his second home but is earth his second planet?  Has he been absent from his district so much he hasn't seen the decline in borough services with the constant slashing of the mill rate while the population is exploding like nowhere else in the state or country for that matter? Did he miss the memo that prices for goods for everyone including the borough have gone up at an exponential rate?

In the article Mr. Arvin went on to say that "he spent some time with borough staff and found a little-used fund for major repair and renovations that had the $1.7 million he needed to reduce the tax rate to flat over last year." Really? He and others on the assembly while doing their due diligence just happened to miss $1.7 million dollars laying around? He must have lots of faith that his fellow assemblyman Mr. Colver has squirreled away enough for renovating his empires. 

World is not Flat

Does the assembly think that the people of the borough will continue to be fooled by lowering the mill rate year after year and not question how that is related to an even worse level of service? Will they just shrug their shoulders the next time the borough goes to borrow bond money and they might see the borough credit rating has fallen? Will it cost taxpayers more because the assembly refused to heed the advice of their hired consultant to keep savings revenues healthy? Has anyone noticed that cuts for operating the borough are already cutting into those funds at a dangerous pace?

The borough has over 70 aging buildings, facilities, sheds, etc that total over 150,000 square feet and that’s not under just one leaking roof. But speaking of leaking roofs, does the public works department receive instruction on a priority ranking for disasters for shrinking funds despite being continuously asked to do more with less funding regardless of more demand for services?   Does a frozen building when the heat is out trump a flooded one when the pipes break? Does a caved in roof rise to the top over a building on fire? Guess the good news is the cost of Divine Intervention has gone down if the borough now needs no savings for emergency repairs.

Raiders of the Lost Coffers

This can’t be good news either for Assemblyman Mr. Colver who has successfully raided money from all kinds of savings and unspent capital and operational kitties to justify his own special projects this second round on the assembly for things like his favorite Charter School, Administration Buildings or no doubt more planned projects. Hmm we think he has mentioned his desire to build a big sports dome. That lost race to the piggy bank must sting.  Sage Assemblyman Mr. Woods concerned through the whole budget process and the fate of the shrinking dollar will have less dollars to fret over.  Assemblyman Salmon who has made it clear he doesn't think part of the job of the assembly is micro-managing, meeting excessively or wasting words or actions can’t be too happy about dragging back to yet another special meeting in borough chambers to satisfy Mr. Arvin's angst over casting a vote. He must be caught in some serious deja vu as he recalls the mill rate now is nearly the same as it was in 1998 when he was mayor of the borough. 

Does this overnight revelation of Mr. Arvin and his fleeting approval now bring back for further plucking of the budget turkey carcass to give more time to make villains of public employees and government and keep the microscope off of the cost of certain assembly member micro-managing and their own skyrocketing costs of doing business? Reported increases in the assembly and mayor expenses with travel, mileage reimbursement and teleconferencing have gone through the roof but that’s not part of any conversation thus far. Is the public not suppose to notice or ask about the cost of doing business the way it was done in the past in relation to how it’s happening now?   Let’s not forget that three seated at the horseshoe served in the past.  Who are the power brokers they are serving?

Cutting In or Cutting Us Out

Very troubling is Mr. Arvin's successful amendment adopted to cut 25 percent across the board (except for 3 exempt departments including the assembly) to already drastically trimmed employee overtime about saving money or does it just create an opportunity for less public oversight?  Staff attendance to answer questions at Assembly meetings has already been severely limited by this assembly and ceremonial mayor. What is the fate of any opportunity to ask borough staff questions at future assembly meetings, community councils, road service boards, or at any evening public meeting? Do all public meetings have to be held during the day so that borough staff can attend and who gets priority? Is it the person on the phone or visiting the borough for assistance, the chair of the board impatiently standing at the doorway hand on hip waiting for staff to come to the meeting during the workday?  Or does the assemblyman showing up for information cut in line in front of everyone during the 8-hour workday?  When are there enough full buckets under the leaking roof to call in for after hour repairs or do we get more buckets?

Will borough voters forget that many of these same elected officials thought a ferry currently sitting in dry dock was just the project we needed and continue to direct piles of taxpayer money into a port that has yet to prove itself up while taxpayers foot the bill and funds are directed from other badly needed infrastructure projects?

What did Assemblyman Mr. Colligan mean after lending support for an amendment offered by Mr. Colver that he was doing so reluctantly because he thought "there are many half pregnant plans" at the borough?  It sure seems that a lot of fully pregnant women could give birth before this assembly can make a decision that’s in the public interest, limit their process or is firmly wrapped around the axel of political party or ideology that’s for sure. 

Oh and what about all the shouting some members of this assembly and mayor have been doing in nausea for months about supporting  business but now reduces any contractual work the borough is allowed to do to you know primarily small business by a whopping 20%. Is the walk of the talk to rob the community of that work or are we just going to cut some more corners and do less?

Can we get you more tea at this point?

What did Assemblyman Mr. Colver mean when he said during public testimony "some day there would be a reckoning"? Could he mean future assemblies and taxpayers will be left to mop up the financial hairball that is left while Mr. Colver slides back to claim his old seat on the school board or grab the ring of some other elected seat while claiming to save the day while he continues his "Colverizing " way of doing business.  A word we could offer a meaning to if Webster would accept it in their dictionary.

Just part of a fluid process or preparation for knee jerk reaction ahead?

Right now we know that the off again on again, previously not needed Special Monday evening meeting that Radio Free Palmer will stream live to listeners will consider the budget is now on again to address Mr. Arvin’s concerns. Having fun yet? And you haven’t even had a chance to see what the ceremonial mayor has up his dusty sleeve. Pure politics at work here folks.  Somebody pull back the curtain.  Pretty sure that statue of Ayn Rand has been joined with one of Ron Paul.   



Sunday, May 6, 2012

THE ANNUAL DIALING FOR DOLLARS CONTEST




There isn't a city, county or borough in the country that doesn't struggle trying to explain to its public how the government spends their tax dollars.  Thanks to the continuous requests from the public engaged in the process, you know doing your heavy lifting, this year in the Mat Su Borough residents might have a little less to wonder about.  The borough manager cracked the whip, and instead of just linking a big 500 plus page budget document that few read and nobody understands, he posted a bevy of documents on the main borough webpage.  This will allow everyone a substantially better look at how the pie is divided.  Perhaps most interesting, are some of the questions from assembly members who bothered to ask and the answers they received.   Standard practice had been for the manager to respond to just the inquiring mind or the answer would be stuffed in the all-important red folder at the table.  So a tip of the hat to borough manager Moosey.

Road Show!

For a couple of years now public testimony on the budget has been held in Wasilla at the Central Fire station.  The rationale is that the location is more in the center of the borough and would encourage more people to turn out. Observation in this magical thinking doesn't really offer up any better results in attendance than the stuffy basement of the borough building in Palmer. However, this year the clerk was allowed to get a real sound system with a technician that was way better than the "barbie microphones" they have struggled to adapt for use in the past.

Hey, Its about the Kids!

In two nights of testimony the message was nearly the same in 2011 with a bit less turnout from educators and supporters. They seemed to be resigned to the fact that after flat funding from the borough last year, this years proposed budget at this point already includes the minimum 3% the district has asked for and might be as good as it gets.  Those that did testify in support of education funding seemed to have a better grasp on the specifics and spoke less in generalities. That speaks well of the good start the school district has done in their efforts to dare we say enlighten everyone about the education piece of the borough budget pie and correct some misstatements from the past and present.  In addition, there was a bit of a full court press in Juneau this year that paid off and we can’t help but note that it is an election year.  Go figure, right. It is a disappointment that the powers of be continue to stick their proverbial heads in the sand about a consistent pattern of forward funding for education.  This kabuki dance the state, borough and district are all forced to do when it comes to financing is costly to taxpayers on so many levels. There should be a permanent prisoner exchange to do away with holding kid's education hostage and hold some elected officials accountable in this area. End of story. At least for now!


Dangerous Curves Ahead

Numerous individuals testified in budget hearings about the need to increase pay and capacity for emergency services that in a borough of our size is wildly expensive.  Luckily few of us will ride in an ambulance in our lifetime but by golly everyone wants one if they find the need. And they better be there quicker than the taxi. Particularly outside the core, drivers and crew of EMS respond to parts of our borough that are in worse shape often than the victims they are trying to rescue.  Just where accidents and emergencies occur in the 2500 square mile borough an ambulance in many cases isn't the vehicle that can get to victims. Responders often times need a four-wheeler, snow-machine, boat, hovercraft, airplane, helicopter or some other mode of transportation. Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching is the cost of emergency and rescue.  Then there are fire stations that need to be built or expanded now because the growing density of population calls for it. Add to the mix the increasing need because Mat Su has become and will continue to be the choice of people in Anchorage and other areas to come and recreate.You get the picture. Some employment data suggests that  Mat Su emergency responders are woefully below normal pay scale of other areas and with a huge turnover rate as the borough trains them up and they go where they can make a livable wage.   Unlikely that anyone in the assembly corral, especially during an election year, will suggest pinching pennies on public safety even though they might whine about it for show.

Shuffling the Cards for Social Services

Remember the sting of the ceremonial mayor’s veto pen that attempted to rob the people in the valley providing badly needed human services of much needed matching grant monies? To review, last year a call to action turned folks out and the past assembly was able to overturn the veto. This year the social service sector took a more pro-active stance.  They were present to testify and remind the ceremonial mayor and members of the assembly that although they respect conservative values they need the support of matching grant funding so they can continue their work.  These organizations provide respite and assistance to Alzheimer's patients, those in substance abuse treatment, and oversee many other vitally needed programs. The Mat Su Health Foundation spreads a huge amount of money around the valley and brought to everyone's attention that income levels and educational levels are the top two drivers of any community and that if we improve the health of those with the poorest health it only helps business and development.  This is a strong message that should resonate with assembly members always in a hurry to fall on their sword for anything harkening itself as business.

Undue Influence?

Speaking of business, the final night of testimony brought out the big guns for the tourism business from Princess Cruises and promoters of the of the newest shiny tourism project, the South Denali Visitors Center. This project has been on the plate for some 40 years and they were there to garner some support financial or otherwise to provide 3-phase power from Sunshine (mile 101) to mile 135 of the Parks Hwy. Billed as a cooperative effort between the state and Princess its hard to assess, but in three minutes of testimony other than the basis of the request it does beg the question if the ceremonial mayor who still sits on the MEA board will get the recuse hook if it comes up in deliberations.

Support Your Local Library

No budget public hearing is complete without testimony from lovers of our libraries and solicitation of support.  Every year you can almost bet that there will be an arm wrestling match at the assembly table on how much financial support libraries get. There are several dynamics in play.  Cities in the borough struggle to serve an influx of people that don't live within their boundaries by trying to scrape up enough funding to continue the service and provide for the demand on facilities.  Libraries in more rural areas provide much more to communities than shelves of bound books.  They are, in most instances the only places residents of the area have to gather for public meetings, get computer access, or a tiny bit of socialization of others.  Let's not forget they provide some jobs, something few and far between in rural areas.  One of the biggest factors in the library-funding puzzle is the unspoken fact that those that use the libraries are often not considered a huge voting block like say charter school parents. Sometimes an easy pawn in the game to sacrifice.  Let's hope not.

Workers Matter

Finally this year, a cadre of borough employees donned in green tee shirts to show their solidarity during the budget process with some even brave enough to testify.  Since the last election the increased noise of chest pounding about the evils of too many departments and employees in government along with how the "private sector" can do it better and cheaper spewed endlessly from a majority of the assembly armed with a spear to destroy anything that looks like regulation or something to enforce as at times become deafening.. Understandably there is concern.  Last year data showed the borough employed 1 person for every 332 people whereas Anchorage has 1 for every 107.  This is significant in many ways.  The Municipality of Anchorage spreads over an area of a mostly developed 1,961 square mile area verses our own borough of 2,500 rugged miles of rapidly growing, and an intensely needy population expanse.  A leading state economist has pointed out in a presentation to this assembly that by 2020 Anchorage is only forecasted to grow 15%  where Mat-Su grew faster than any other area of the state and will should look forward to 44% growth.  A growing borough needs people to operate it efficiently and effectively. Manager Moosey, completing his first year of service, which some would described as a baptismal by fire, deserves to have the people to do the work of the people. It would be a great time to stop the costly trend of using 1,000 hour employees and temporary department heads to supplement your workforce and recognize that a growing borough needs workers. The people that do the work deserve the support, tools and vote of confidence and respect to do their jobs.  If the borough doesn't provide that they will join the ranks of the other road warriors and take their talents and our investment in training with them to Anchorage to benefit.  Explain that to your local restaurant owners, coffee houses, gas stations and grocery stores. You know businesses. Let's not forget the voters of the borough approved a huge school bond last year and the ink will soon be dry on the approval of a sizable road bond.  Those projects will languish and become more costly if there is not the workforce to complete them.  It's just common sense to protect the money the taxpayers have committed by getting the projects done in a timely manner.  It takes people pure and simple. 

Port of Expensive Possibilities

This assembly, past assemblies and probably future assemblies are still rolling the dice on the port paying off in spades.  The flow of investment of federal, state and borough tax dollars are mind-boggling. It's always been a “build it and they will come” project.  The borough manager and staff have been tasked with creating a virtual city at the end of the road that is seen by many as the perfect place for commerce. With lack of infrastructure it makes that task even more challenging. It’s been a marketing effort like no other in the borough and recently ramped up with funding for a new economic director with high expectations. Certain assembly members have made it a goal of seemingly micro-managing borough staff in creating government services that pay the cost of the service and adding meaningful income to the borough in port permits, fees and leases. Few residents in the borough have even been to the Point McKenzie port area to see what is currently developed or the opportunities that they are told are possible.  Assembly members Woods and Arvin served on previous port commissions and Assembly member Salmon a former borough mayor himself and former board member of KABATA (with the port being a big part of his assembly district)  makes a trio of big believers in continuing the flow of funds to the port.  No cuts expected here.

Pinch a Penny, Squeeze a Dollar

The chair of the Planning Commission a businessman himself, testified that the assembly spends an enormous amount of time chasing down ways to squeeze a dollar out of a budget and not enough time creating the environment in the valley to create new revenue. Got that right!  He and many others served on a group of stakeholders that provided the feedback for the Mat-Su Strategic Economic Development Plan adopted in 2010 with the game plan for a vibrant, successful, quality borough in which to live.  That plan has been casually tossed to the side.  Apparently this assembly wants to concentrate on the ruse of the "opening the borough up for business" that has become the new tool to position the right profiteers. The self-proclaimed conservative assembly majority is tireless in its pursuit of a freedom that doesn’t necessarily benefit business. The payoff for assembly members running for re-election this year is sure to be a short term personal gain (including power and reputation) rather than borough benefit.

How About a Spot of Tea & a Crumpet or Two?

This ceremonial mayor and majority of the assembly are without a doubt the most politically motivated pack ever seated at the table.  Assembly member Colligan, undaunted by the appearance of a possible conflict, continues to serve as vice chairman of the state republican party despite his statement of stepping down if he is elected to the assembly.  The ceremonial mayor and three assembly members are listed as being elected by the efforts of a tea party group based in Wasilla who is out for the heads of anyone that doesn't dance to their tune of shrinking government with their bullying efforts.  Governing is messy business.  This element makes it not only messy, but also divisive and motivated by the success of political futures and not the future of residents and future generations.  Governing shouldn't be about building empires, voter bases or rewarding supporters but you would be blind not to see the pieces of all of those elements busy at work with this group.

Ahem, Pay Attention!  It’s All About the $$$

Make no mistake.  The budget flies under the radar for most of us.  But hey it is a big deal.  It’s the mechanism for the entire direction our borough goes and what it costs us now and in the future. What happens next week in a string of special meetings dedicated to process is a big deal.  The ceremonial mayor has already warned he wanted plenty of time before the deadline of passage to apply his much coveted veto pen like that's an effective way of governing. Expect to see the usual amount of arm waving about keeping the mill rate down because we are taxing people out of their homes which by the way doesn't happen until they haven't paid those taxes for 10 YEARS! Expect to hear about certain things not being the role of government.  Expect to hear we need to cut our way to success with a flat or reduced mill rate. This is where we wish some time would be spent in Juneau insisting the state pay up for one big unfunded mandate. The assembly could reduce the areawide mill rate by .88 mills from the proposed level of 10.381 mills to 9.501 mills if the state got on board paying what is owed the borough. Additionally, mill rates in the nonareawide fund and the service areas could be reduced. 

If wishes were horses, we would all ride.

If there is an area of government services that are important to you, times a wasting to share those thoughts with the assembly via email or phone.  Budget deliberations start Monday and no doubt there will be plenty to report here after the gavel falls, but it will be too late to weigh in then and those paying attention might be busy calling on the hazmat team to clean up the spill.