Elvis Presley, James Dean, Terry Haines; all rebels of their era. This piece is a response to Terry’s guest opinion that appeared in the Dec. 6 edition of the Kodiak Daily Mirror. There was considerable discussion at the Consolidation Committee meeting after his opinion was published. The outcome from the discussion was that a response was acceptable and does not violate the open meetings act, so I present the following personal opinion:
The Consolidation Committee was formed by the Borough Assembly after a majority of voters supported an advisory question to pursue the idea of consolidating the Kodiak Island borough and city of Kodiak governments (KIB Ordinance FY2017-02) and the result of that vote (KIB Resolution FY2017-17) was 1235 votes for Yes and 919 votes for No. Its fascinating that two of the three precincts that had the highest percentage of voters supporting the idea were from the City’s own precincts, the Teen Center (first) and Harbormaster (third). The Chiniak precinct had the second highest percentage of support for the idea of consolidation.
The Consolidation Committee has been tasked with filling out the application to the State’s Local Boundary Commission. The application itself does not consolidate the governments. It is only the first step towards consolidation. It is a tool that helps guide the discussion of the committee. We are a diverse group of individuals who come from different backgrounds and have different concepts of what consolidation means. I believe that generally everyone who is participating in the discussion wants to do what they feel is best for our community. However, “what is best” is defined individually. It is only through this discussion and debate that we can weigh the pro’s and con’s of each element in the application.
The original timeline put forth in the first Consolidation Committee meeting had 70 meetings listed. At two meetings a month, it would be nearly three years before we completed the application. This seemed like an overly long and drawn out process. However, as we have waded into the waters of consolidation, it is a large undertaking. What is the key issue? We have two governments that are flawed. Through this application process, we are trying to create the blueprint for a new consolidated government that we believe is functional for our community. As we study each element in the application and make decisions, we base our discussions off of what currently exists and how well or not, its working.
As a community, we have issues. Some have existed for a long time, like the need to replace the City’s fire station and some are recent, like the slashing to debt reimbursement for school construction bonds by the State. Some of these issues may have been from a lack of planning and saving and some are due to external policy changes at the State or Federal government levels. Does having two governments help or hurt our ability to plan for, act on and evaluate our community’s needs? Will we fund debt service for our new school buildings and also pay for maintenance on the existing buildings?
In committee meetings, Haines has brought forward a point that the city of Kodiak tax base is a measure of local economic health, as it collects sales tax. The borough’s tax base is more stable largely in the collection of property taxes, which are based on real property valuation. Does having two governments with different methods of collecting taxes provide an environment that benefits our community? Does our tax structure sufficiently fund the necessary functions of local government. Are we being taxed excessively? These are some of the questions that this process of studying the idea of consolidation will try to answer.
Taxes are a subject everyone complains about, and no one wants to see an increase in. Are the services provided to the community adequately funded? Most of our local government services are funded from either a tax or user fee. Is it possible that a consolidated government could reduce the tax burden on our community? A consolidation study done in the late 80’s showed that there could be a 10% savings of expenses if the Borough and City combined. A similar study in Ketchikan showed similar results. Is a 10% savings worth pursuing in our community?
Stepping away from government and focusing our community, I have concern over the health of our fisheries industry and how that will impact our community in the next decade or sooner. Whether it is climate change, global warming, ocean acidification or farmed fishing, there are many threats to this industry. Can we bolster our local economy with other industries if fishing declines?
At the same time, I see many businesses investing heavily in Kodiak. Mill Bay Road has seen significant changes in the last few years. Mill Bay Townhomes, Scott’s Plumbing and Heating, Tyler and Carrie Randolph, Kodiak Powersports and Marine, Friend Contractors, Highmark Marine, Midtown Auto and Cliff Point Estates are just a few. Near Island has seen investment by native corporations and private businesses. Trident Seafoods has invested into their processing capacity in Kodiak. Alaska Marine Lines is building a dock facility in our community. Why would these businesses invest in Kodiak if they didn’t think we had potential?
Studying consolidation gives us the chance to re-shape our existing government structure and find a better way to provide the necessary public services to our community in a more responsive manner. The city was formed in the 1940’s and the Borough in the 1960’s. Is it possible that a new municipal government could be more responsive to the needs of our community? I do and that’s why I voted to pursue the idea.
I applied to participate on the Consolidation Committee with an open mind. Very quickly, I decided that I was “pro-Consolidation”. If I was going to sit through three years of meetings and make thoughtful decisions that could impact our community for years to come, I wanted to stand behind the process and work to find a way to make consolidation work. That being said, I reserve the right to change my mind and oppose consolidation, if during this process I find that consolidation will harm our community.
At the same time that consolidation is being studied by a borough committee, the city council has tasked their staff to investigate annexation. This is a good thing! Annexation and consolidation are not mutually exclusive. Both have their place in our community and should be studied. The questions that are answered by studying annexation will help provide answers to questions that are brought up in the Consolidation Committee meetings. At a recent joint borough/city work session, Mayor Bill Roberts asked why the city isn’t considering extending the annexation boundaries to the end of the road. That could eliminate discussion about bifurcating the fire protection district and reduce the number of road service districts. These are topics being discussed in the Consolidation Committee as well.
In the Consolidation Committee meeting immediately after Haines’ opinion was published, he explained that he wanted the community to be talking about this more. I disagreed with some of the points he brought forward, but I do agree that this needs to be a community discussion. In this festive time, where we see Kodiak come together at community events and holiday gatherings, let’s avoid making politics the primary discussion. However, soon after the holiday season is over, budget season will begin for our local government bodies. Can we take our sense of unity in our community forward to have real discussions on where we are going, and how we are going to get there.
I believe that as a whole, the Consolidation Committee is trying to resolve the issues that our largest two local governments have and create something that is more functional and responsive for our community. Please follow our progress, attend meetings and give us your feedback.
Paul VanDyke is a member of the Borough’s Consolidation Committee, has lived in Kodiak for 39 years, has worked for the Kodiak Island Borough for 26 years and currently serves as the Chairman of Fire Protection Area #1.