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Candidates address financial concerns

City budget a hot topic at League of Women Voters forum

Posted: Thursday, September 24, 2009

A broad swath of community issues were brought before Assembly and mayoral candidates during the League of Women Voters forum Wednesday night, but most every issue came back to the financial uncertainty the city is facing in coming years.

Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire

There are two candidates in each of the two Assembly races as well as two candidates in the race for mayor on the Oct. 6 municipal election ballot. Karen Lawfer is running against incumbent David Stone for the District 1 Assembly seat. Ruth Danner and Stephanie Madsen are running for the District 2 seat left vacant by Sara Chambers, who decided not to seek re-election. And Mark Farmer is challenging incumbent mayor Bruce Botelho.

After a brief introduction by each candidate, forum moderator Barbara Belknap asked each candidate to outline the three things they would want to accomplish if elected to the positions.

Lawfer said one of her main concerns and reasons for running is the ongoing affordable housing issue in the community. The issue is not only about how much residents pay for rent or a mortgage, but also about how much it costs to build, operate and maintain a house, she said. Lawfer said she would like to find solutions to help reduce costs in those areas, as well as look at how much energy is being used, whether the property tax structure is reasonable and whether there is reliable transportation available near affordable housing.

"I think that Juneau is in a stagnation situation right now," Lawfer said. "And I think it's time that we re-invent Juneau, as a place to visit, as a place to do business and as a place to raise our family, and finally as a place to retire and finish out our years."

Stone said he is primarily seeking re-election to ensure that the city's finances remain well managed in the future. He has served as the Assembly's finance committee chairman for the past five of the six years, during which time the community has seen property taxes decrease or remain flat. The "rainy day fund" also is at its all time highest level since it was created as a financial net in case of unforeseen financial troubles, he said.

"I think we've done a really good job at keeping our fiscal house in order," Stone said. "Financially we're in good shape."

However, he added that he is concerned about where the city will be financially over the next three years and wants to ensure that Juneau is fiscally sound.

"I'm not a politician; I'm an accountant," Danner told the audience. "I collect and analyze data to come up with realistic solutions and put them into action."

Madsen said her foremost concern is about the budget. She said she also is concerned about "capital creep" and high-paying jobs from Juneau migrating to other locations.

Both Farmer and Botelho agreed that keeping Juneau as the state capital is a major priority for the mayor to be focused on.

Botelho said he believes the economy can be spurred by maintaining the capital as well as creating new jobs by expanding Juneau's federal research capabilities. He also said he wants the city to find responsible solutions to the city's waste stream and providing recycling.

Farmer said he would like to see the city protect its electrical resources and begin diversifying the energy resources by expanding into tidal power and wind energy. He said he also would like to see the city begin using hybrid vehicles.

When asked if the city should make across-the-board cuts or specific cuts to the budget during financial hardships, Farmer said he would look at specific cuts.

The city also may need to look at raising taxes if needed, which Botelho also said would likely have to be part of a solution to a budget shortfall.

Madsen said she is not a proponent of across-the-board cuts, but said she would not be in favor of raising taxes. Danner said the Assembly should make specific cuts and that it should not make across-the-board cuts that could put people out of work because "we need to keep our people working."

Stone said he has a great deal of respect and trust for City Manager Rod Swope and has looked to his fiscally responsible management to see what kind of cuts the city should be making.

"Obviously if we have to raise taxes we will to balance the budget," he said.

Lawfer said she doesn't think the city would benefit by any "draconian cuts" to city services, but said she would be in favor of across-the-board cuts.

• Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or eric.morrison@juneauempire.com



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