At election forum, taxes and Baranof Park are hot topics for city council candidates

Kodiak Chamber of Commerce president Lindsay Knight asks questions of (from left to right) Gabriel Saravia, Mark Anthony Vizcocho and Rich Walker, the three candidates for Kodiak City Council, during the municipal election forum Sept. 26, 2012. (James Brooks photo)

Parks and taxes were the topics of contention Wednesday night as the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce held the only candidate gathering scheduled before next week’s municipal election.

With Jerrol Friend’s announcement that he does not want to be considered a candidate for the Borough Assembly, the city council is the only major contested election. Fire Service Area No. 1 also has more candidates than available seats, but that election was not featured at Wednesday night’s forum.

Instead, the race between Gabriel Saravia, Mark Anthony Vizcocho and Rich Walker took the lion’s share of the 80-minute forum. With only two open seats on the city council, each man put his best foot forward and tried to convince Kodiak why he should be chosen on Oct. 2.

While all three candidates have long histories in Kodiak and expressed their love for the city, they have different thoughts on the city’s tax cap and its approach to Baranof Park.

“I believe the city is going in the right direction,” said Saravia, a three-term incumbent running for his fourth term.

While he’s proud of the work the city has done to build a new sports field and begin a new library, Saravia said he regrets that he did not push more to make the city’s recent sales tax rise more equitable by raising its sales tax cap. Currently, the city taxes purchases only on the first $750 of worth. A $2,000 fuel buy, for example, will be taxed as if it were worth only $750.

“I really passed the buck on, that time, and it did not make the system as fair,” he said.

Walker said the city council’s tax increase shows it lacks the long-term planning foresight that his experience brings. Walker is deputy project manager for the contracting group at Coast Guard Base Kodiak and said, “that type of planning is what we need on the city council.”

Walker said instead of tax increases, the city should focus on building its tax base through tourism and land development. “I’m against (rises in) the tax cap,” he said. “When you open up the property, it spreads out the tax base. ... Bring in money, which brings in money.”

Vizcocho said the complexities of Kodiak’s tax structure make a short answer impossible. “I just need to do more studies on it just to see how it can work for the city,” he said.

The candidates appeared to agree on issues including the role of nonprofits in the city and Kodiak’s role in fisheries politics, but their ideas on the future of Baranof Park appear different.

With a new artificial turf sports field complete, the city has $1.9 million remaining from a state grant. The original plans for the Baranof Park Improvements Project call for that money to be used on an artificial turf baseball outfield and new bleachers and lighting for the sports fields.

Proponents of other sports, including tennis and skateboarding, have proposed using some of the remaining money for park facilities used by their sports.

Walker, who was one of the lead non-governmental advocates of the Baranof Park Improvements Project, said the city should stick to the original plan. “The original project was supposed to be for Baranof fields,” he said. “Get done what the money was originally slated for.”

Saravia appeared to take a different approach, echoing the calls of skate park proponents when he said the project should “serve the best (it) can to the most kids in town.”

Vizcocho said he was reminded of this summer’s fire at the Baranof Park ice skating rink, and regardless of what goes into the park, some accommodation should be made for protecting that investment. “Protect whatever we do put in there,” he said.

When Kodiak voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they will also have three choices for borough assembly. At Wednesday night’s forum, candidates Aaron Griffin and Chris Lynch made brief statements about their candidacies. Chamber director Trevor Brown read a brief note from the third candidate, Jerrol Friend, indicating he is no longer interested in the seat. Friend, who withdrew after the deadline, will still appear on the Tuesday ballot.

The other major election next week is on the school board, where Debra Kirk and Norm Wooten are the candidates for the two open seats.

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