Investment advisor Brad Fluetsch says affordable housing in Juneau has become a runaway train in recent years and the community needs to get the cost of living back on track.
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Fluetsch, who is challenging incumbent Mayor Bruce Botelho in the Oct. 3 municipal election, said four of the five components of the cost of living in Juneau are more expensive than Fairbanks or Anchorage.
"Our housing is just astronomical compared to the others," Fluetsch said. "Medical is really high in Juneau. Utilities are really pretty high in Juneau. Transportation is also quite a bit steeper than Anchorage or Fairbanks."
The only component that is comparable to the state's other two largest cities is general goods, he said. The high cost of living in the capital has led to stagnant population growth.
"We have to bring down the cost of housing," Fluetsch said. "There is a couple of ways we can do that. We need to increase the density, but in order to do that we need to put sewer pipe in the ground."
The construction ordinances must also be addressed and the city needs to help lower the cost of raw land, he said.
"In order to do that we need to sell somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 acres of city land and put that into the private sector," Fluetsch said. "It will have a real good, positive impact and will broaden the tax base."
Occupation: registered investment advisor.
Education: bachelor's degree from Washington State University.
Public service: grand president of Alaska Native Brotherhood; former member of Mayor's Fiscal Task Force; public member of Alaska Real Estate Commission; former member of Juneau Economic Development Council Board of Directors.
Time in Juneau: 19 years.
Family: wife, Kathy Dye.
Fluetsch has worked on several task forces, boards or committees in the community, region and state that have given him intimate insight into the local economy.
Rich Poor, who like Fluetsch has spent time on the Juneau Economic Development Council Board of Directors, said the candidate is enthusiastic and quite knowledgeable when it comes to the local economy.
"He seemed to be fully aware of what was going on in the community," Poor said. "Anyone who volunteers to be on one of these committees says something about their character."
A second crossing over Gastineau Channel is also important to lowering the cost of housing in Juneau and the city has land on West Douglas that it could sell to citizens to make that happen, Fluetsch said.
Keeping the capital in Juneau is imperative to the future of the community, but constructing a new capitol is not what is going to stop the debate among some pro-move legislators, he said.
"Lowering the cost of living would do more to keep the capital and grow state employment," Fluetsch said.
The facilities are aged, cramped and inefficient, he said, but people still need to be able to afford to live here during the legislative session.
The community needs to find some solutions to lower the cost of living or it could potentially miss out on thousands of new jobs if the Alaska gas pipeline becomes a reality, he said. If nothing is done in the near future, "none of those jobs will be located in Juneau," he added.
One of the major factors that will drive down the cost of living in Juneau is to create a broader economic base by building the road out of Juneau, Fluetsch said.
"It will have a dramatic impact on our cost of living," he said. "I think that road is as important to Juneau and Southeast Alaska as the Trans-Alaska pipeline is to Alaska. It is our road out."
Building the road would increase tourism traffic and could bolster trade and commerce with interior Canada, Fluetsch said. If a deep-water port was built on West Douglas, goods and services could be sent to Canada and Juneau could prosper from the buying power of Whitehorse, he added.
"All of that increase in business and economic activity makes Juneau a much bigger consumer market," Fluetsch said.
Working with Skagway to build the road all the way through to the neighboring community instead to a ferry terminal north of the Katzehin River would be in the best interest of the region, he said.
"A road to a ferry terminal farther out isn't the right solution, but as long as we're moving that way I support it," Fluetsch said. "We need to go all the way through."
Building the road north would create opportunities for mining north of Juneau, he said. Building Kensington Mine is a first step in the process, he added.
"The mine is a really good investment for our community and it will create a lot of significant opportunities for us," Fluetsch said.
Former Mayor Jamie Parsons spent time on a fiscal task force with Fluetsch in the mid-1990s when the city was looking at ways of expanding its economic base and looking for more money during a rough financial period. With most of the members on the task force coming from government backgrounds, Parsons said Fluetsch brought a new perspective to the table.
"Brad was asking very good questions," Parson said. "He's no shrinking violet. You can say he asked the tough questions."
Fluetsch also had one of the best attendance records and showed a great deal of confidence, Parsons said.
"He was probably one of the more, I won't say outspoken, but he really get into the role," Parsons said. "I thought he played a real effective role."
Former Mayor Sally Smith said when she served with Fluetsch on the JEDC Board of Directors he had a lot of energy.
"I'd say Brad is a hard-charger," Smith said. "He has the courage of his convictions, which aren't always mainstream convictions. He can think outside the box."
Smith, who endorsed Botelho for mayor last election and has again this election, said she thought that Fluetsch did not always have the full scope of how government works and didn't always understand the checks and balances that go along with it. She said that is not always a bad thing.
"He always makes me think on a different plane," Smith said.
Fluetsch said he has experience in leadership, including being elected the grand president of the Alaska Native Brotherhood. His experience in the business world would also be beneficial to the city, he said.
In the last three years the city's budget has increased by about $75 million while the population and school enrollments have not, Fluetsch said.
"We have to roll back city government," he said. "We have just been on a spending spree of out of control proportions."
Fluetsch also wants to see a change how the city generates operating funds from the 5 percent sales tax.
"I oppose any sales tax that taxes food or basic necessities," he said.
Instead of the extending the 3 percent temporary sales tax by passing Proposition 1 in next week's election, Fluetsch suggests changing the 1 percent permanent sales tax in the city charter to a 7 percent sales tax that would not tax those basic items.
What this election really boils down to is one thing, Fluetsch said.
"We need to address Juneau's affordability," he said.
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