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Monday, December 31, 2012

IT'S A 2012 WRAP...

While the country is tied in the middle of a political knot waiting to find out what its like to go off the fiscal cliff  borough residents already took a little ride off their own cliff in 2012  

Let's just take a little peek at just some of the actions the borough assembly took. 


The assembly in order to stick to a majority held ideology that the only good government is a starving one, took out their samurai swords at budget time and set about spending a big chunk of spare change sitting in the taxpayer savings drawer . Reserves went from about $14 million dollars to sit hovering at last check around $4 million left in the ever shrinking piggy bank. That included a big fist full of greenbacks moved out of the emergency fund reserve because we all know there are never any emergencies in the valley and when there is we can always take it out of petty cash or rely on it to be just bad enough so that either the state of feds will pony up for the costs right? Eye roll here, followed by palm slapping forehead.. 

Along with changing the "revenue cap" to a presto chango "tax cap" things could get pretty interesting this next year when the same troop sits down with a much smaller savings and a borough with growing needs that are staring them in the face.  One has to wonder with an assembly that is always vowing not to raise property taxes just which services will get the ax and be 2013 sacrificial lamb? 


There was a nearly year long kabuki dance with administration on what to do with now borough owned M/V Susitna Ferry that by all accounts still sits in its expensive berth in Southeast Alaska.  Lots of talk about the ferry and it's $60-$80,000 monthly costs to taxpayers.  That is  right up to after the borough election where it promptly dropped of list of things to point fingers around the table about.  Has it found a home in some tropical paradise or should taxpayers be visualizing the teflon manager searching the borough building for hidden shoe boxes of money to continue to pay the monthly bills?  Have some port insiders been silently working away at their plan to beach it at Pt Mac?  Will some valley folks get that floating casino some have been talking about or will it end up becoming a certain construction companies glorified "work boat" to get the borough off the hook for the monthly gushing of taxpayer money? Can the fed's who will be calling for a refund from the borough on their investment for the ferry if it isn't put into service be tamed?


The ceremonial mayor whose job it is mainly preside at assembly meetings and act as the ceremonial head of the borough continues to take full advantage of the position particularly with the agenda and what goes on it and where and when. That pesky public. Our carrot farmer mayor couldn't find much love for opening up community councils to non residents or eliminating the part on the agenda for "Person's to be heard" but he did manage to issue a handful veto's (however not very successful) and a few tie breaker votes.  That along with some real zinger comments now and again that lifted the scalp on more than a few audience members and the borough attorney a time or two. 


Tall Towers spent over a year to the joy of industry having no regulation by the borough.  The persistence of one assembly member (Keogh) resulted finally on a new ordinance being adopted just last month. Meanwhile grandfathered in are the 50 or so that have already sprouted up around the valley in the free for all blocking views, enraging neighbors and costing big taxpayer dollars in an ugly process that may continue if the mayor (who we must give credit to for casting the tie breaker vote for passage of the ordinance) has his self appointed new tower board likely to be weighted heavily by industry and likely to come up with some suggestions for change. 


And while were at it we continue to wonder how that "board diet" your assembly ordered up when they successfully removed from the list the Real Property Asset Management Board going?  Like most dieters does it goes away when the dessert tray gets passed around? Actually the borough will have to loosen its belt loop after this year as they expanded one board from 5 to 15 members, changed the requirements for expertise and extended the terms of members on a couple of others.  What was that saying about lipstick on a pig? 


Then there was the great watering down period.  The first bucket hit the borough ethics code striking "personal interest" out of code and making "financial interest" rise from $200.00 to $1,000.  Impossible to go into all the consequences of these and other changes made to the code but it sure made it smoother sailing for some people sitting in positions of power. We'll leave it at that for the moment. 

The next bucket got a hefty lift from the MatSu Buisness Alliance and some developers in a painful revamp of the borough subdivision code. It turns out, for a segment of the assembly open for "business" means setting up a system to amass fortunes for some supporters regardless of consequences on others. Short term gains that could serve up some long term consequences and not unlike the tower mess the borough found themselves in. Unfortunately when the blame game begins on this one many of the ringleaders of this on the assembly will be termed out.  Yes, we're looking at you Assemblyman Colver, Arvin and a couple others.  


Assembly members got a quick lesson on how important mapping of the flood plain can be as a fall storm gushed through a fairly new subdivision in Wasilla.  Pretty much all corners of the borough were effected as emergency services, public works and other departments at the borough dropped everything to respond. Besides the importance of flood plains, river management took on a whole new significance and not just in Butte area who has had houses sliding in the Matanuska River like hot chocolate hitting ice cream for years.  Turns out "your problem" is "our problem" after all. 

Plenty of water and personnel was needed to stop a what could have been a catastrophic fire in one subdivision a hair away from the downtown area of Palmer. Fast action by borough (much of them volunteers) and city crews responded to fight the flames and curb what could have been life changing for the valley. 


There were resolutions a plenty many of them fulfilling what we have described here as memos to themselves. It was easy to loose count on how many in support of KABATA, coal, gas exploration and even one for Sharia law. A resolution presented several times for support for a full health impact statement on the effects of open pit coal mining  never could find anything but the bottom of a recycling bin thanks to this develop at any cost majority at the table. Endless passionate pleas from borough residents time and time again got the mute button. 

Sandwiched in between were ordinances for a long list of gas improvement districts, removal of easements, several new gravel pits (which now allow for drilling in the water table) lowering the decibels for noise which when you think about it for a borough that blesses fireworks for all anywhere any time kinda fits in. It sure seemed much of the time common sense was in short supply much of the time. You could however find plenty of politics and special interest laying around. It was as if not only the train left the station but no one was allowed to ask where it was going or who was driving it. 


There was some good news for Hatcher Pass Nordic Skiers as the Government Peak Area was able to hold on to its traditional non motorized designation and pass a plan. Assemblyman Colver got to pull out his cape that he keeps tucked away for other projects in his district especially if they are related to a certain charter school and led the successful charge on this one. Although we tire of the messy process Assembly member Colver continues to cling to in doing even credible things at least the ball got over the line on this phase of a very worthwhile project. In addition a knowledgeable contractor writing the plan and diligence of a slew of volunteers who had put the trails in, groomed them for years and other borough wide supporters who testified were the right ingredient for passage. 

For those that recreate in Jim Creek without a throttle although the final verdict is still out, things aren't looking so good. Some members of this assembly seems to be determined to find a home for icky and punish this area of the borough and personal property values no matter what the cost.  

The timing couldn't have been better for the excellent coverage in the Frontiersman about the relocation of Felony Flats and possible threats of a move to some nicer neighborhoods in Willow or Big Lake. That hot mess on the Parks Hwy was just fine with people that were just driving it but the thought of it becoming one of their real neighbors sparked a whole new set of concerns and people with petitions showing up at Assembly meetings.  Assembly member Salmon who had passed off  the multi-family ordinance that currently is on the books off to the planning commission hoping to kicking it all to the curb, felt the heat on his collar and settled for a re-write still making its way through the process offered up by fellow Assembly member Halter.  

Hey people in nice neighborhoods....your not out of the woods yet on this one. We know you haven't had much experience at what goes on at assembly meetings but be forewarned things can go badly very quickly when the boys at the horseshoe get together to pass legislation.  Just ask the people of the Butte who are stuck with "Motorized" master plan in the works when they thought they could preserve at least some part of that area from a cloud of exhaust.  

The other good news is a very ugly longggggggggggg election is over and even though we can see the engines warming up for the next one in the fall there is a small respite. Keeping in mind that if one thing re-elected assembly members (including Mr. Arvin who is setting a whole new standard for "calling it in" and has continued to do so since the election) its not actually what is true that matters, it's what you can convince the right amount of people that vote is what counts. Remember that when you go to the voters booth next time or if you are an assembly member that complains about this blog.  

Were working on warming up own engines for the first assembly meeting on January 15th but meanwhile you can get your fill by wandering over to Radio Free Palmer and listening to the Citizen Lobbyist year end wrap up. A bit more detail there.  

Trust us talking about 2012 was painful enough but writing about it here was like hot pokers to the eyes. And while you are at the Radio Free Palmer site peel off a few green backs for a end of the year donation and don't forget to put them at the top of your "Pick, Click and Give" list when you doing all that hard work filling out your PDF form for that free state money.  We know you will...

Let's hope for a better New Year with more people paying attention and that moderation with triumph over extremism.  And yes we do know that is kinda like teaching a mule to tap dance..