An already stuffy hot night at the assembly meeting got a bit more steamy when the top almost came off one tea pot that has just become used to getting his way.
So pull up a chair while we report on what you missed or try to unwind what you might have heard that left your ears bleeding. In this tardy summer heat you might want to consider a nice ice tea (of the long island sort) to dull the pain while you read this rather long report on this ongoing Monty Python play they call governing the borough.
CITIES SERVE UP REPORTS
• The City of Palmer announced it has tweaked its sales tax to make it more "business friendly', eliminated some dated language from the city charter and accepted a voters initiative to place a question to the voters on the city October ballot to determine if Palmer will become the first Smoke Free Community in the valley.
• The City of Wasilla handed out praise for the meeting of stakeholders to explore a regional emergency dispatch center that Assemblyman Colligan managed to lasso a big chunk of taxpayer money to study. The city also patted their own back for hosting a successful annual 4th of July parade. No mention though of the so far failed proposal being kicked around for a increase in sales tax for COW some of what was to be directed to the new on hold library.
• The City of Houston handed out thanks for the grant funding the borough provided for the Zero Lake parking lot and had a shout out for support of the Moose Federation.
The Ceremonial Borough Mayor served up his own thanks to Houston that hosted the last meeting of the borough and city mayors. We should maybe wonder what happened to the joint meetings between the City of Anchorage Assembly with our own Borough Assembly of days past? Seems like with all this angst about where to park a shiny new ferry on the other side of the pond might invite some dialog huh?
WHAT WE HAVE IS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE
The sparsely attended Joint School Board-Assembly Committee Meeting that occurred earlier this week focused mainly on that old reliable breakdown in communication issue. The districts concern was explained as a lack of information from the borough regarding progress on the mega school bond projects contained in the 5 year bond voters passed last fall. The borough is the sole project manager and central piggy bank for the long laundry list of projects and land acquisition. The district described it as being left "on the side line of what's going on the field". In addition to the bonds there is a page full of projects and procurements that need to be completed with money in grants passed through the borough via special legislative kisses (appropriations), and even though it has been several months since the end of the session the district isn't getting answers as to the status of those projects and supplies either. The questions falling at the feet of the district from parents, teachers, boosters and community members and are getting louder and with school just around the corner it is only going to escalate. Everyone is aware that there are projects across the district underway or on the plate making the district anxious to get the problem solved. The district has gotten up to speed in keeping the public informed on financial matters along with much more community outreach helped by a new website design and online registration is in full swing. With several new programs, cyber learning opportunities etc. (as well as the launch of a new Alaska Middle College School) it is difficult for the district to continue that standard without cooperation from the borough. There was no real finger pointing at any one person but the district was serious about finding a remedy and fast.
For those of you not keeping track Assemblyman Colver termed out after six years on the assembly, bounced over to the school board for a term then boomeranged back to the assembly where he is now seeking yet another term and if elected and will likely serve until termed out once again. You would think after spending that many years on both bodies Mr. Colver, who didn't vote for the bonds by the way, would have had enough practice to get this communication problem ferreted out. Unless of course, perhaps Mr. Colver is the problem? He did suggest a webpage be built to document the progress and current expectations for completion of the projects with some pictures of the progress being made. The district offered to build and host the webpage staffed by some talented student tech interns as soon as the info is received. So put that in your hope for the best and "wait and see file".
NEW LONG TERM RESIDENTIAL FACILITY YOU DONT WANT A ROOM IN OPENS
Manager Moosey delivered what most would consider good news (unless it was about you) that the first "guests" (ie: inmates) have been arriving at the brand new and much discussed Goose Creek Prison with many more on the way. It was a pretty rocky road getting that prison built and located in what some would argue is too far away from everything. But with that water under the bridge (and a fancy small water treatment plant) the top priority is filling it with inmates and prison personnel. If it is the huge economic engine some have promised or the social drain and new problem child for the borough is yet to be seen, but be assured the doors are clanging shut and the "open for business" sign is being lit up.
MORE FAIRY DUST FOR THE PESKY FERRY
Some things are just as hard to explain as Mitt Romney's missing tax returns.
But since we are out in the port neighborhood talking about the prison why not jump into the topic de jour of the meeting- our big new fancy ferry that is sitting at a dock in Southeast ringing up the bills now that the feds have officially signed the birth certificate for the boroughs new bouncing baby. Meanwhile the hand wringing continues about "what to do, what to do" at every meeting of the assembly.
Suffering from an apparent memory lapse on just what they instructed the manager to do last time they were flailing their arms screaming about the accruing costs to taxpayers of the ferry, the wild west legislating cowboys took it up again with two resolutions on the agenda. One quickly passed authorizing another $66,970.63 out of the budget for one month of financial responsibility for the ferry. The second one brought forth by Assemblyman Salmon authorizing the manager to list the vessel on the federal register and with a ship broker disappeared in vapors. Apparently the arthritis has set in from the ongoing finger pointing that some members of the assembly have been enthusiastically participating in and who have now turned their efforts to giving the manager a case of whiplash.
Poor Manager Moosey. This mega problem was dumped in his lap practically before he got his coat off the first day of work at the borough a year ago. He has been slowly treated like the lamb being led to the slaughter for it. Each meeting he has to sort out the rants and raves and go down a different path directed by the noisiest of assembly members, which normally is Mr. Arvin speaking from his perch in China or Mr. Colligan red faced and invoking his favorite "hairball" and "hideous" quips.
Up to this point the howling direction to stop the money hemmorhage has been pointing to work something out with the Fed's. However, the borough will owe a bundle of money if they sell it or use it for other than the intended purpose of operating a ferry
A few meetings ago the noise from the voice in China, Mr Arvin started strongly questioning if the M/V Susitna should be sailed up here (a $125,000 proposition) and be beached at the port. This idea was highly discouraged by feedback from the ship builder and the handsomely paid ferry consultant, maybe having seen what shape things end up in storage yards. Undaunted and supported by a recent resolution from the Port Commission and testimony of one member Dave Cruz of Cruz Construction (rumored now to be a CIRI company) Arvin insisted a study be done toute suite. You know, a search for another answer that is more suited to the solution perhaps he now wants. Putting the manager on the spot for a cost and timeline of a vaguely described report from an unknown provider was hesitantly estimated at $20,000-$60,000 and possibly 6 weeks in getting, but that the manager wanted the assembly to know doing that was their decision.
Working off their previous instructions the manager may have struck an agreement with the FTA (federal agency) to let the borough dump the ferry via the register and that the sale price would likely pay off the boroughs obligation to the feds. After all isn't that what the conservatives of the assembly wanted last meeting? Turns out not so much. The member speaking from China quickly gathered support from the usual assembly members and convined them to put off trying to sell it on the register until this new STUDY is done. The assembly can take it up at their September 21st meeting. A quick dance of the calculator tells us that the costs of mining for the answer some powerful members of the assembly and port commission want will at the least include another nearly $68,000 portage, an estimated $125,000 to get it up here to keep the empty port terminal company. Then there is the $20,000-$60,000 for a study not including the cost of staff time to find and put through procurements to get the study started and who knows what else. And all the while it stays off the federal registry for a likely buyer. Genius huh? If you just cannot get enough of all things ferry we have covered it pretty well in earlier posts and you can be sure it will be back next meeting in preparation and the only question is whether Mr. Manager will come prepared wearing a neck brace for yet another whiplash in direction from the assembly.
MESSING WITH YOUR VOTE AGAIN...
No silent sufferer of things not going his way, Assemblyman Colligan brought forth a resolution to add an advisory question on the October ballot to move all borough elections to the same date in November. The same month that state and national elections are held would make for one big happy Election Day. Convinced that it would be just the ticket to spark a much larger voter turnout and having the marching orders of the local tea party tucked under his arm he brought it forth despite the fact that it was voted down by the assembly earlier this year. Most elected officials would have the good sense to let it go, but Colligan didn't. Apparently his patriarchal world view wouldn't let him.
Introduced as a resolution it gives little time for a public response that seemingly and increasingly has become the strategy. But this time enough assembly members got it. Knowing this did not come to the assembly by citizen initiative, Assemblyman Salmon breaking with usual ranks was first out of the chute to speak out in opposition. He reasoned that that it was not the government’s job to wonder if the people should vote on things or should they create an idea in their mind of what they should vote on. Makes sense to us. Assemblyman Keogh commented about the estimated $133,000 costs for equipment (since using the state equipment would no longer be possible with side by side elections) that could climb even higher by the need to find, hire and train more election workers. Assemblyman Halter said he worried that local concerns would get mired in the mix of state and national election noise. Assemblyman Colver added that he thought ownership of our own election time serves ground roots democracy better and had the same concerns as Halter about losing local focus.
Taking the undaunted route Assemblyman Colligan quickly amended his own resolution to move the borough election to occur the same day in April as Anchorage elections. That started the questions flying about costs, employees and about adjustments to terms of office. Mr. Colver, often the man wearing the punting shoe successfully postponed action on this until the next meeting August 7th. More questions that will be seeking answers and squeezing staff time. We are hoping Mr. Colligan's pending legislation to move the election date to match neighboring Anchorage that there is no intention of having their election officials keep track of borough ballots since that doesn't seem to be Anchorage’s strong suit lately.
TRANSITING HATCHER PASS ALL ABOARD?
Nothing like a 25 plus year in progress project making a move forward with found money to bring out the supporting crowd. In this case it was an element in the ongoing project in the Hatcher Pass Nordic Ski area that so far with $2,575,973 in federal money, $53,698 in state funds and $797, 745 in borough funds has resulted in a 4,900 foot access road, parking lot and trailhead. A transit center and bus accommodations were originally presented as an option not selected when the project ran short on funds. Turns out the borough was alerted by those pesky fed's that building a "transit center" or (8 foot unheated hut) wasn't optional but part of the money that had already been accepted and spent as a grant. Assemblyman Colver, (visualize donned in his cape) with a long history of successfully asking for just "a little more money" for things like expanded charter schools and building additions happily stepped from behind the curtain. Colver who masterfully lined up undeniable support (Olympic skiers, top rated coaches, tourist supporters and even one mayor) presented his plan to move the money beans around to not only fund the transit center (about $400,000) but include other things so the facility can be used for public functions such as a warming and ski tuning area for local, state and maybe national Nordic events, a community center for council meetings for the Fishhook Community Council (which threw in $20,000 from revenue sharing), meetings and other social events and gatherings . The estimated total budget with some basic design from borough public works set at $893,000.
There had been some worries circulating about the additional funds and how they would affect current trail work by non-profits particularly in the Big Lake and Willow areas that although supportive have their own critical needs. Both Assemblymen Halter and Salmon were assured that support via grant from the borough would not be affected. To ease some concerns by Halter and Keogh about leaving the bed tax account nearly drained was promised to be partly rectified by some more money beans moved and the project was approved by a 6-1 vote. Assemblyman Woods the lone no vote still had concerns as to the cost of managing the facility. Interesting since Palmer will likely benefit greatly by the economic boost it provides.
Although the process was messy which has become the norm for what we find Mr. Colver involved in, and even though there have been some questionable decisions made in the past, the lovers of Hatcher Pass seem to have this new scope right. This is just the type of economic engine that can reward the borough's small business operators and take advantage of the huge opportunity of drawing a very profitable base of folks to recreate in Hatcher Pass leaving places like Kincaid Park in Anchorage in the rear view mirror. Having said that we should not let our eye get off the ball as this project and future development moves forward. Empire builders with or without a cape need to stick to what they say the plan is, who it is being built in mind for and what the costs will be as it marches up the trail. Let's hope that this development does not become the scotch tape and bailing wire, glorified ATCO trailer and portable building project. We still have too many of those sitting next to schools trying to educate kids in.
REFRESH YOUR DRINK AND GRAB A SNACK THERE’S MORE…
And in order to prevent heads exploding we will avoid what could be a lengthy explanation of what happened when the assembly tackled accepting “for sale” properties from property owners. For the most part located in the northwest part of the borough. (about 60 less than the huge numbers the ceremonial mayor has at times claimed the borough was making homeless) owners of the list haven't been paying their property tax bill. Several came through at zero hour to avoid foreclosure by satisfying the debt and getting current on what was owed. There is much to debate on how to assist those that are struggling and even after giving years of grace to some owners last year a number still didn't catch up. So far this assembly has done what all others have done to fix a continued problem which is cherry picking a few to give another year to catch up which clearly in most cases is not the answer. We will leave it for now just saying there was testimony that you can listen for yourself preserved on the podcast at Radio Free Palmer of the testimony and how your leaders handled it.
The ice in your drink of choice has probably melted by now and the chance of sun hopefully is calling us to step away from the madness and refuse to give in to a temptation of a two part post. We will resist wading in too far into the fun that was had with the resolution Mr. Colligan brought forth casting disdain on the voter’s initiative on the state ballot concerning Alaska Coastal Management. Suffice it to say he sees conspiracies. Others saw possible APOC issues but were ruled out by the attorney.
Since he is busy most of the time using facilities in China, Mr Arvin brought forth a list of increases you can expect on fees for use of borough facilities. What a guy. You can always seem to count on his vote to lessen the burden on businesses real or perceived and increase the burden on the people.
In a last bit of good news, the folks in Big Lake will finally get to roll up their sleeves and utilize the $250,000 in grant monies from the legislature to conduct a community impact study. With the railroad plans to roar through, proximity to the port, and a major truck route still proposed to divide the community this step might answer some questions on how the people that live there will plan and prepare for the challenges. Likely sooner than later the highly organized involvement by some residents to become the fourth city in the borough will once again go to the local voters. As you might expect there is no shortage of opinions of how that should go.
WHAT’S UP IN THE NOT SO HOT MONTH OF AUGUST?
More fun can be had as we head into the next assembly meeting August 7th with others on the schedule for August 9th and 10th just in case the tea pot boils over, and some extra time is needed to decide what to serve up on the ballot coming to you in the October election. Speaking of elections there is one more week to pick up, fill out and return packets to file for office for 3 seats on the assembly, 2 on the school board and that of the ceremonial mayor for which you don’t have to grow carrots to file. In addition there are vacancies coming up for the same election on the Wasilla and Palmer City Councils. We only report it like we see it but we all have to live with the consequences of our political choices or inactions.
At least keep yourself and your neighbor informed by tuning into Radio Free Palmer which has some snazzy new programming you can find all about on the site. Your citizen lobbyist finding the need to have an extra day to let things soak in has now made the move to the live radio showtime (by radio dial or streaming) on Thursday mornings in the 8a-9a spot with a recorded replay of the show at the drive time later the same day between 5-6pm. Financial support by underwriting of the segment and huge and vocal encouragement keeps us all going doing our best to make a community that thinks public involvement is the grease that really keeps the wheel turning.
Do your part pay attention and pass this on to someone that might not be that should.