Even when it seems unlikely the next assembly meeting can surpass the last in creating bad policy it does. And just when this right wing extremist held majority of the assembly had a chance to dangle a toe into the waters of protecting the health, safety and welfare of the people of the borough or pass legislation with rewards that didn't end up in the pocket of their friends in business they ran like their hair was on fire. Yep. It's just that bad and then some.
VROOM! VROOOM! START THOSE ENGINES…
After months of being kicked down the proverbial road the legislation for the Jim Creek Master Plan, (a 471 acre borough parcel in the Butte area) came rolling to the assembly for authorization for funds to start the process. To say the area has been a big pool of contention between existing users groups would be an understatement. Not only has the wait for guidance turned neighbor against neighbor it has resulted in almost a constant stream of phone calls to the troopers for daily intervention. Giving lift off to the long delayed plan to bring these user groups together in a way that might give all entities a voice to be heard in the design and designation of uses is a tall order, but a good plan can do just that.
Authorizing funds for these types of master plans are fairly routine, but not this time. Even though not in his district it didn't take Assembly member "Moto-Ron" Arvin long to spring to action and for all intents and purposes hijack the plan to insert "motorized" into the title, changing it to the Jim Creek "Motorized" Master Plan. His contention was that making it motorized served all users and that changing the title was not showing motorized as a preferred use. Apparently Mr. Arvin having spent much of his term in China, watched animation filled media with people and horses sporting motorized jet packs to argue that adding motorized was making it inclusive of all users. As you might expect there was much eye-r0lling and head shaking in the audience while Mr. Arvin hid out in his corner seat like the viper he has proved to be. Like so many of Mr Arvin's actions it clearly doesn’t pass the red faced test, but in an election year that's not much of a consideration. With this move the entire intent of the plan is forever altered. It should also beg the question of how legal it is for a document advertised to the public as required by borough code then renamed with a completely different title and intent (motorized, leaving a great percentage of traditional users out) and get passage without going through the process of advertising again. How can that be acceptable public process? Sorry people of the Butte. Even though the borough vows not to put out a one sided plan, Moto-Ron has other ideas and just never mind he lives safely in Cloud's Rest on the other side of the valley and won’t have to deal every day with the impact of the change nor have or his own or neighboring falling house and property values plummet.Final vote on this one was 6-1 with Mr. Keogh against the title change and adoption.
WHAT DO WE MEAN THEIR JOB IS TO PROTECT THE PEOPLE…
Moving onto more assaults to the public health of the valley was a failed resolution brought forward requesting support for a full Wishbone Hill Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment as follow up to the rapid assessment that was done and read like a block of Swiss cheese. A full slate of testifiers (14 including residents, health and academic professionals) who were well versed in the failings and incompleteness of the recent rapid assessment on the proposed open pit coal mine voiced their concerns to the vast lack of data and passionately urged support for passage. In fact they pleaded. The state ultimately responsible for funding of the assessment would make the final determination of the need but a resolution in support of the borough would be added value to the argument for more science, and have a bonus of giving the assembly another tool in the toolbox of information for future decisions or liabilities regarding the mine. Unfortunately the testimony was no match from one lone voice of a representative of the Matsu Business Alliance testifying against it. As you might recall this for profit business organization/corporation was successful recently in a complete watering down of the subdivision code by convincing assembly members that their own rewrite was the document of choice and eventual passage. Even though the results of the full assessment has no bearing on the regulatory effect on the mine the MSBA is against it. That’s enough for most of the boys in the corral. In fact Assemblyman Colligan made a point of saying his decision was guided by "bankers and investors". Too bad there wasn't some added moral and public consciousness in his process that might include knowing the full story about the physical and social health impacts of the mine slated to go smack in the middle of existing neighborhoods. Sorry people of the borough. Never mind that this same assembly voted to spend $300,000 of your property tax money on an assessment of information Mr. Colligan is convinced will cure what ails the borough in emergency dispatch deemed another health and safety issue while supporting an assessment at state expense doesn't cut the mustard. Maybe Walmart will have a sale on those little blue face masks that the people of China don daily to escape the effects of pollution when the blasting commences and coal trucks come roaring through your own neighborhood, The resolution failed with a vote of 4 against (Arvin, Colligan, Salmon, Woods) and 3 (Keogh, Halter, Colver) for it.
CONTINUING TO PICK THE TAXPAYER POCKETS…
The haters of rules and regulation turn out to be the lover of fees. Make that some fees. When it comes to ambulance fees which are raised nearly every year in the borough its a big thumbs up. It might just be a coincidence that all assembly members are provided with borough health insurance and at least one receives medicare as well making an ambulance ride more affordable and less of a concern.
The fee for solid waste (think a trip to the dump) was increased nearly 20% to users. This enterprise fund has been swimming in a sea of red but through a plan adopted by public works last year at least no red ink is being added to the pool. It will take a few years to start to break even but at least this isn't a plan the assembly has kicked to the curb yet. Although it might be wise to hold your bets. One business owner claiming an over charge for his falling off the trailer load trip to the land fill could send these boys back to the table with pocket knives flashing to carve out an exception no doubt.
While these types of user fees can take a leap up off the page without a nod, other ones recommended by the manager to offset COSTS that affect developers and builders didn't get shown the same kind of love. With no advance notice to the public, Mr. Salmon (a realtor by profession) proposed at the table, drastic cuts to nearly every fee recommended by staff for the newly adopted title 43 subdivision code. Mr. Salmon who took time out of stopping debate and calling for the question on legislation most of the meeting offered an amendment (perhaps at the suggestion of the Mat Su Business Alliance again) that radically reduced proposed platting, variance, waiver, vacation of easements and other fees back to pre 2004 or earlier levels. Mr. Arvin argued in favor of no fee at all. Turns out giving big developers and builders loopholes in the new subdivision code that was big enough to drive a semi through wasn't enough. It was the icing on the cake that will be served on the backs of the rest of the taxpayers. Exactly what property tax payers are these conservative assembly members protecting by keeping the mill rate flat again? Is it the ones scratching out a living and shopping with handfuls of coupons or the developer that bought cheap land the last time property values took a dive and now want to make a bundle so this assembly can claim some economic success? At the end of the day guess whose wallet is fatter? Bingo. Once again, the residential small taxpayer gets to pay the way for business, the sacred cow of this assembly. This “back to the future" assembly have hands firmly planted on the wheel to operate with regulations and rules from the 80's and finance them by fees that match. For a group that rode to power and based their campaigns on nothing new except the demonization of regulation, local government and some bogie man of special interest now is tied at the ankles of their own special interests.
CEREMONIAL MAYOR WORD SALAD….
For those that missed an opportunity to visit the ceremonial borough mayor at the dunking tank during Colony Days, rest assured he continues to give you reason to not miss another opportunity again. He created his own word salad asking in reference to the Willow Historical Plan (punted to December) that he "would still like a clear answer when we create an historic inventory, nobody has told me that that doesn't automatically put those sites in a status which creates and triggers all the legislation that comes up. I read the document and the more I read it the more concerned I got about that. I still didn’t find any definition of what we call history. Most people from Europe that come here are amused at what we call history. To crank our future around stuff that happened in the backwoods-I am certainly sympathetic to the indigenous roots and those pieces of history but I think the rest of it is waiting for improvement myself". Yeah, I know. Can the TV reality cameras be far behind with an offering of "Carrot Farmer Mayor" series?
SAD STATE OF AFFAIRS…..
Then there was the part of the meeting that Assembly member Woods went on for several minutes about attending the Pebble Mine hearings the previous evening and how evil FEMA was in that process only to be corrected finally that the evil government agency he was talking about was the EPA. Yikes!
So that’s what your boys at the borough assembly table have been up to. Meetings have become a series of cat and mouse games with amendments made consistently on the fly that change substantial pieces of legislation eliminating any pesky public process. Even a cat knows the value of waiting patiently for the right time to pounce to catch the mouse. This assembly can’t be bothered by protocol or process. Motions are being made and moved during assembly comment periods on things not advertised on the agenda at all begging the question of legality. There are allegations of egregious violations of the open meetings act floating around.
For now chalk up another installment of quick lube local politics assembly style. Nothing to worry about except your well being, health and safety..