Candidates running for mayor and assembly fielded questions in a full room Thursday at the Chamber of Commerce Lunch Lecture series.
Two candidates vying to become mayor of the City and Borough of Juneau and three for CBJ’s two open Assembly seats discussed their vision for the future of Juneau. The candidates were asked questions about past public service, Juneau’s cost of living, sales tax and bond issues, road access to Juneau and the AJ Mine. Candidates were limited to 30 seconds per answer.
The afternoon’s first question was directed to the mayoral candidates.
Q: How has your prior public service prepared you to lead our city as mayor?
Merrill Sanford: I graduated from JDHS in 1966, went into the Marine Corp and served four years building leadership and teamwork skills honesty and integrity come with military service. Went to the North Slope and helped build the pipeline.
Which has been nothing but a benefit and a boon to all of the state.
I joined the volunteer fire dept and served as the volunteer fire chief in three departments and as a paid person for 22 years. A lot of those past experiences have helped me to formulate my leadership and listening skills to allow you, the public, to be able to communicate with us on the assembly level and bring your ideas to fruition.
Cheryl Jebe: I served 25 years with the League of Women Voters and six years on the Docks and Harbors board where I was chair of the operations committee. I worked six years with the Juneau Visitors Center selling Juneau at the kiosk down on the docks.
It’s very important to be an ambassador of Juneau to be aware of the selling aspect.
I did community budget surveys for the League of Women Voters, worked with the CBJ Assembly on budget issues and moderated candidate forums for the assembly and school board for past 20 years.
Q: Recent dept of labor study showed Juneau to be the most expensive city of its size in Alaska. What will you do to drive down costs so that young people can afford to remain here?
Jerry Nankervis, Assembly District 2: There are two propositions coming forward, a bond proposition and a sales tax. Though touted not as a tax increase, as the city has put it out, it is a tax increase. It’s just delayed for five years.
We have to look at affordable housing. Juneau’s Comprehensive Plan limits the amount of land the city can put out at one time. We need to look at possibly rezoning and delaying the implementation of requirements like sidewalks, curbs, lighting that are needed to develop a neighborhood. Offer tax incentives for affordable housing developers.
We need to bring the cost of housing down first and foremost.
Loren Jones, Assembly District 1: I agree that housing is important for young families. Kids that are back in Juneau that are my kids’ ages, housing a big issue or them. Where to live in the community and where to find quality housing is a real struggle for them. Solving this allays some of thier fears about other costs.
Lowering costs is not a single issue. It is about each and every decision that comes before the assembly. However, there are a lot of issues that are outside the review of the assembly.
Jebe: Housing costs are one of the most difficult issues for young families. I would also like to look at sales tax on food. However, there would need to be compromises in other places, because our budget is built around a certain amount of income from that sales tax. It’s one area to look at to reduce cost.
Sanford: It all boils down to the nine members of your assembly. They have got to start looking seriously at what they are doing and what they are taking votes on.
I’m a fiscal conservative and even I fell into traps over the last nine years. It’s very easy to say ‘yes, yes, yes.’ We need to evaluate every decision we make. Even a one percent cost increase of doing business; we need to figure out how it is going to affect our business people and our community members.
We have to learn to say no and we haven’t done that very good overall in our assembly.
Paul Nowlin, Assembly District 1: Opening the AJ Mine is a good way to reduce costs. If the city owns a gold mind it shouldn’t be the most expensive place [of its size] in the state to live.
A gold mine could lower property taxes, which affect home-owners and renters alike.
Q: How will you vote on each of the ballot propositions? One to extend the temporary sales tax for five years and the general obligation bond for additional capitol projects. And why?
Jones: I intend to vote yes on both. In sitting though assembly, finance and community meetings I feel that the assembly made some really good decisions overall. If I had been there, the package might have looked differently. But I’m a yes vote on both.
Nowlin: I would vote no on both of them. When they do the omnibus legislation, some of the projects I don’t agree with. We could wait, or do without a new library. Not sure why we are building an indoor training center at Eagle Crest when the snow is outside. The projects seem kind of spendy (sic). The more we spend, the more money comes out of your pockets and my pocket.
Rewrite the propositions and I would vote yes before the sales tax ends. The city needs money to run. I’m not totally opposed to 1 percent, just some of the things grouped with it.
Nankervis: The general obligation bond is a tax increase. Beginning in 2018 for 15 years the property tax levy will be $39 for every $100,000 of home value a year. If sales tax doesn’t pass it will be $42 per year for every $100,000 beginning in 2013 for 20 years; 15 years if the tax goes through and 20 years if it doesn’t. It’s just a deferment.
Jebe: I’m going to vote yes on both of the propositions. The Aurora boat harbor needs improvement. It’s been eight years that the Docks and Harbors board has been talking about improving the harbor. We’re now spending $180,000 for rent for the Mendenhall Valley library. I believe having a library of our own will cut our costs over all. While I’m not in favor of bundling and it wouldn’t happen under my watch I am going to support these propositions.
Sanford: If I would have been there I would have voted no on both of those propositions. I don’t agree with how we prioritized them. Vote down bond and vote down sales tax. Can still divvy up $44.8 million available to Juneau. We have a whole year. While the projects are great projects and will continue to be, we only have so much money and we have to start living within our means.
Your mom and dad taught you at home those basic principles. We are not going to loose that sales tax dollars. We have time to take in account the community’s positions.
Q: Last year the CBJ Assembly established the AJ Mine advisory committee to study and advise the assembly under what circumstances, if any, the CBJ should promote the develop the AJ mine. What is your position on continuing the work of this committee?
Nowlin: We need to make sure it will not disrupt the lives and livelihood of downtown residents and businesses and of Thane residents. Make sure the noise level does not bother and traffic needs to be address. Make sure the city is getting a good cut of the profits. Make sure that the jobs go to Southeast residents who have been residents for some set amount of time.
Jebe: I’m in favor of continuing the work on this committee. Many issues need to be fleshed out. While the city waits for and interested developer, we need to continue to work on the water and work on commercial fishing and the Taku Dock. There are other issues that need to be addressed before the mine is opened.
Sanford: I’m in favor of AJ Mine opening as long as we can take care of our water supply first. We’re working on that right now. The deep mine is below Juneau’s water supply and can be separated. Right now a third of your water is coming through that mine already.
Nankervis: I apologize, 30 seconds is nowhere near enough time to address this issue. You have both ends of the spectrum, people who say ‘no, no, no’ and people who say ‘yes at all cost.’ We would be remiss to not open up that mine if we can do it following the permitting process. It is a potential revenue source for the city and not to look at that is foolish.
Jones: To answer all of the issues that have been raised by the other candidates we need a different group of committees. This committee was important to understand the overall but if we get into actually permitting the mine we will need a lot more expertise. Will end up with a series of committees. I’m in support of opening the mine.
Q: With salaries and benefits of CBJ employees running close to 70 percent of our annual budget and a shrinking tax base, where will you make cuts to balance the budget? Service? Staff? Departments? And why?
Sanford: We shouldn’t just be firing people. We should look at all of our departments as a whole. In the last nine to 10 years, I don’t know of any in depth look at all of the things that we do for our community. As budgets get tighter we have to say specifically which places we are willing to cut those things in. Not just tell CBJ staff “go find it.” It is our responsibility to tell staff where when we actually start cutting divisions and jobs.
Nankervis: Went through three different budget cycles while at the Juneau Police Department. And I’ve been there a while. People are your biggest costs. What we will need to do is decide what do we no longer want to do because our budget is tight. I’m not a proponent of doing more with less, because it means you weren’t doing enough with what you had before … you’re going to do less with less.
Jones: Looking at the budget, I don’t know of any agency or business or non-profit where personnel costs aren’t your highest cost. We have issues with health insurance costs with retirement costs, even employees that you might lay off. I think those are issues that drive our costs. We need to look specifically at what it is we are not going to do what we don’t think the city should be doing and figure out how that is done.
Nowlin: Besides cutting services that we already have now. For the past little while, city workers have been on a pay freeze. With inflation is actually reducing buying power. If we need to cut things we need to look at the future projects we are considering.
As citizens we need to stop pushing for extravagant wants and realize that is affecting people’s pay.
Jebe: We need to look at future projects to see whether we really need them. We need the assembly to review the budget and look for ways of cutting and to direct the manager to take these actions. There will need to be cooperation. These decisions are going to be difficult.
Q: A yes or no question. Do you support the road to Skagway? If so, stand up.
Sanford, Nankervis and Nowlin stood.
Election day is October 2.
• Contact reporter Russell Stigall at 523-2276 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.