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Mary Catherine Larsen, 68, died July 14, 2017, in the Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle.
9/26/2013
Borough Assembly race: 3 candidates, 2 spots

KETCHIKAN (KDN) — Three candidates are competing for two seats on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly.

Incumbents Alan Bailey and Bill Rotecki, along with quasi-newcomer John Harrington, who has served on the Assembly and Ketchikan School Board before, are hoping they’ll fill the two, three-year terms open for the Assembly.

Daily News Reporter Nick Bowman interviewed the three candidates, and those interviews are published to the right.

In addition to Assembly elections, voters will decide the fate of several ballot proposition and the outcomes in races for the Ketchikan School Board and the Ketchikan City Council.

Residents of the City of Saxman and the South Tongass Service Area will vote on a proposition to combine Saxman and the service area for fire and emergency medical service protection. The proposition also would create a South Tongass Water Service area that would be separate from Saxman.

In the city, residents will vote on a $42-million bond proposition to fund construction costs for additions to the PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.

For the School Board, incumbent Dave Timmerman and newcomers Camille Booth and Trevor Shaw are competing in the local election on Tuesday to fill the available three-year seats in the borough-wide election. Those interviews will be published on Friday.

In the city, incumbents Matt Olsen and Dick Coose and newcomer Judy Zenge are competing for two open City Council seats. Those interviews ran in the Sept. 25, 2013, edition of the Daily News.

Age: 60

Occupation: Retired from the Alaska criminal justice system, former superintendent of the Ketchikan Correctional Center

Organizations: The American Legion and other veterans’ organizations

Ketchikan Residency: 20 years

Political Experience: One term on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly

The Assembly is motivated not to raise taxes, and the School Board is motivated to get the most funding possible for its students. How do you work together on these sometimes uncomplimentary goals?

“The very first thing I?hear being brought forward is always taxes. That isn’t always the solution. There has been little discussion — and I think there should be more discussion — in regards to how we can make our current tax dollars work more effectively. Those conversations need to occur long before we start deciding to increase taxes.”

The borough and school district need to discuss “efficiency within government and the school district itself. Is it the only way to do business?”

“Taxation is really toward the end of the trail, when we simply can’t find any other means to meet the basic needs of students. There are no easy answers. Will I?resist increasing taxes? Absolutely — to the end. There has to be a picture painted for the public to be able to see ... and I want to see that picture before I start entertaining increasing taxes.”

“At some point, we have to be responsible. We have to determine the facts — not the emotion — and move forward with whatever is reasonable and responsible.”

Would you be willing to draw on borough reserves again this year to maintain school funding?

“Absolutely. I have no problem with drawing down reserves. That is public money that is sitting in a safe. At some point, however, that comes to an end. At some point you can only draw down so far.”

Litigation involving the state’s requirement that organized boroughs fund a portion of basic need of local school districts is being considered by the Assembly. Where do you stand on the issue? Is it worth pursuing, even at an expense of Ketchikan’s limited political capital?

“I have studied the issue intensely. It is extraordinarily complicated. I am concerned that we are betting public moneys that we’re going to prevail. It could be up to $1 million. Continued litigation could be up to $1 million. I am not convinced that we will prevail.”

“There’s a consequence to this decision. I’d rather not lean one way or another, but I have concerns. Is this the right approach? I’m not convinced.”

Is the state violating the Constitution by requiring incorporated boroughs to fund a portion of basic need?

“No. It’s been decided. I don’t believe that. In my experience, I think when supreme courts make rulings, they don’t do so lightly. I don’t believe — unless there’s other convincing materials — I don’t believe this is unconstitutional. It may not be fair, and there’s nothing in the Constitution that requires fairness specifically. I’m not there.”

How would you determine an appropriate use of taxpayer funds for economic development?

“The first thing that you have to understand is that it’s public dollars. Is it competing with private enterprise? We need to be aware that there could be potential issues with that. Secondly, is there a return on that investment? People that come forward and simply ask for grants without a business plan or an ability to return those tax dollars, that becomes more difficult to support.”

“I think you have to also determine what are the specific needs of our community or potential future needs. Concerning Bokan Mine (and) Niblack Mine — what are the costs to create an environment so those businesses come into our community? For Niblack Mine and Bokan, clearly we know we have to have much more electrical power.”

The Gateway Recreation and Aquatic Centers are subsidized by borough taxpayers to keep the costs to consumers relatively low. Is subsidization appropriate in this instance? What’s your take on the competition with local business?

“I think we have to be aware of and careful of competing against private enterprise — I think that’s fair. When that happens, or when that situation could occur, then I think it’s incumbent upon the borough to work with those private groups to determine how it can work.”

“It’s not black and white. My whole career has been in gray; I have not lived in a black-and-white world. I just can’t help but think there has to be a reasonable accommodation for both sides of the coin, and if there is a conflict, we need to be up front and say, ‘I think you’re right. We need to back off.’”



Age: 68

Occupation: Retired educator and administrator

Organizations: The Ketchikan Humane Society

Ketchikan Residency: 28 years

Political Experience: Two three-year terms on the Ketchikan Gateway Assembly; five terms on the Ketchikan School Board, including three elected terms and two appointed; five years as the chair of the North Tongass Service Area Board, currently serves on the Local Boundary Commission.

The Assembly is motivated not to raise taxes, and the School Board is motivated to get the most funding possible for its students. How do you work together on these sometimes uncomplimentary goals?

“The nature of the beast is we do fight. The relationship with the two bodies — both bodies have in the past kind of transgressed the lines of propriety. The borough has stepped over the line in getting into the areas of the School Board’s responsibility in establishing budgets and assigning money. The borough has superimposed their view on funding activities and sort of took away that portion.

“The School Board has also done some stuff, in that they get angry and get uptight when the borough does their job, which is to establish priorities for the revenue that we do have.

“Both bodies need to respect the autonomy of the other body. We represent the same people. They basically hired the same people to do very different jobs.”

Litigation involving the state’s requirement that organized boroughs fund a portion of basic need is being considered by the Assembly. Where do you stand on the issue? Is it worth pursuing, even at an expense of Ketchikan’s limited political capital?

“Yes, it’s worth pursuing. We need to start getting a consolidated effort. I?was meeting with the folks on Prince of Wales (Island). Those little communities are still required to pay that local contribution, and with the death of Secure Rural Schools, they’re feeling the punch more than we are. They are really feeling the bite of the loss of that money, and the need to come up with additional revenues. They’re really hurting. We need that carrot-on-the-stick approach. We need the people who are hurting now to go to the Legislature and say, ‘We need help.’

“The stick behind it is that the (Ketchikan) Gateway Borough is considering litigation. I would much rather that we didn’t file the lawsuit unless it’s absolutely necessary to get them to work on it. The best effort would be if we can build that consortium of folks to come to the Legislature as a group and say, ‘The little guy is getting hurt.’”

“Anchorage, why they’re not on this I don’t know — $100 million extra each year to do what the city needs to have done is an extraordinary amount of money. We need the Rail Belt, but right now we could certainly build cooperation with some of the little communities.”

“I’m one of those that keeps pushing hard that we keep seeking the state to (fulfill) their constitutional requirement, which is to fund basic education. There’s a real disincentive to form boroughs because of the tax for education.”

How do you get the Rail Belt on board?

“We have been working with them in one-on-one conversations at various opportunities. Agnes (Moran) and the borough manager met with representatives of some communities. It’s that individual personal contact that we need to be making with all of the power structures in those communities. The (Alaska) Municipal League — maybe that’s one of the issues we need to be pushing.”

How would you determine an appropriate use of taxpayer funds for economic development?

“Right now I wouldn’t promote any taxpayer funds. We have an economic development fund left over from the moneys given over to the borough after the demise of the pulp mill. My hope is that we don’t just spend those on general fund items. There’s always pressure to spend that money. I would like to set that money aside to be doing economic development activities.

“We can’t afford to be raising taxes to spend on economic development in this current climate. There is a recovery going on in Southeast Alaska, but it is slow. Until we get to be a much more robust economy to support those things, I think we ought to be using those revenues that we have set aside for economic development.”

The Gateway Recreation and Aquatic Centers are subsidized by borough taxpayers to keep the costs to consumers relatively low. Is subsidization appropriate in this instance?

“It’s hard to superimpose my views over what the citizens have already voted on. Is there an adjustment (of rates) that needs to take place? Probably. As we are heading into potentially hard times financially, and there is active competition between the private sector and public sector recreation, we need to be very clear that we’re not putting people out of work.

“We really need to be taking a close look at how much money we’re getting from those people at the Aquatic Center and Recreation Center, and making sure that it’s not necessarily equivalent (to private rates) because that would be too much, but that we don’t make it so low as to damage the private sector’s interest. The initial votes to fund the Recreation Center, most of that was meant to be used for construction and maintenance, and only part of it was meant to be used funding programs.

“We’re spending more than what was originally voted on. That’s a whole conversation that we’re going to need to have at budget time, and it’s one of the more uncomfortable conversations because there are a lot of people who are adamant about keeping the costs of recreation down. It’s going to be a touchy one.”



Age: 64

Occupation: Self-employed carpenter

Organizations: Former KRBD board member. Community volunteer

Ketchikan Residency: 33 years

Political Experience: One term on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly. Former member of the Borough Planning Commission

The Assembly is motivated not to raise taxes, and the School Board is motivated to get the most funding possible for its students. How do you work together on these sometimes uncomplimentary goals?

“There’s no question this community could continue to function at a 5-mill rate. We could cut services; we could cut funding to schools — is that the kind of community you want? Some people believe, if you motivation is to attract businesses to town and attract people to town, that the lower the property tax the more people and businesses you will attract.

“But really, you need to look at the whole spectrum. When I?moved here you couldn’t even talk to someone on Pennock (Island) because the phone lines were so bad it was absurd. If you moved to town in 1980, you couldn’t get a private line. You could only get a shared line with other people.”

“My point is whether it’s the city or borough, we have two roles, one is decreasing cost and the other is increasing services. A balance is where it’s at, and that balance is something that Assembly members really need to think hard about when they’re representing the community.”

“So where’s the balance? There’s no question that I am one that leans more towards good services. Are we getting our money’s worth? If we pay a lot to the school, are they doing the best they can with that money? If we build a budget that contributes heavily to those things, are we getting the best bang for the buck?

Would you be willing to draw on borough reserves again this year to maintain school funding?

I voted against drawing reserves. I think that if we’re going to be fiscally responsible, we should balance our budget. The argument in favor of (drawing reserves) is that we have plenty of reserves. I don’t think 5 mills is sustainable. We’re not just talking about schools.”

“We have been operating in the red for two or three years. I?think that was inappropriate. It certainly didn’t kill us to do that, but I think it was inappropriate. There are things that can happen that are outside of our control, and that we can’t even predict, that make it a good reason to hold on to those reserves.”

“One of the reasons I believe it: When times are hard and you need to come up with some money, is that the time you want to raise taxes on someone because you desperately need that money? No, that’s the wrong time to raise taxes. So I think the reserve is a good thing, and I don’t think we can continue at 5 mills. I would love it if we could, but what I see as the level of services that people want to provide, I don’t think that will be provided at 5 mills.”

Litigation involving the state’s requirement that organized boroughs fund a portion of basic need of local school districts is being considered by the Assembly. Where do you stand on the issue? Is it worth pursuing, even at an expense of Ketchikan’s limited political capital?

“First of all, I want to say that my study of the issue — there is inequity around the state. There’s no question — I agree with the borough manager and the consultant we chose to hire — that there is definitely inequity in the state in how state funds are spent. My position has always been: Let’s learn more. If we want to proceed, we should proceed with caution.”

“At the end of the day, will it really have helped us? That’s a question I’m still pondering. Supposing the borough were to enter litigation and supposing it would win, what would the result of that be? The result would be that something would be sent to the Legislature to fix it. The court would not fix it. So without support of other communities throughout the state, that fix may not be really beneficial to Ketchikan. My belief is that if the community wants to litigate, it should do that with the support of other communities, which would then indicate support in Juneau.”

“This is no easy thing. This is not all black and white. I’d have a real hard time supporting this if we were on our own.”

Is the state violating the Constitution by requiring incorporated boroughs to fund a portion of basic need?

“I don’t have an answer for that. My way of looking at this is: Are things inequitable? Yes. ‘Are they illegal?’ quickly turns in a litigious society into ‘Can I win?’ The question is no longer a matter of what is true, it’s a matter of ‘Can I win?’ and when your consultants ... start going and talking about the culture of the court you’re going to have to deal with — is the truth black and white? You’re in for a surprise.”

Where are you on the current state of the city-borough relationship, and are relations really strained, or is it a case of conflicting personalities?

“I think our relationship is functional, and I think at times it’s good. I think the public would be well-served with better relations. Some things are not at all the doing of the City Council or the Borough Assembly. Someone dealt the cards and here we are.”

The creation of the borough “was forced on us by the state. I like to bring this up because when I try to think how the public would be better served by better relations or a different structure, one thing that’s almost a setup for conflict is where a service is provided by the city but serves the greater Ketchikan community.”

“The library is a prime example. The city ran the new library project. I have to disagree with Matt Olsen’s comments about how much input the borough had. Before the darn thing was ever built, the city didn’t have to give any powers to the borough, but it could have engaged the borough more in the process, and I think there would have been a lot less angst.”

How would you determine an appropriate use of taxpayer funds for economic development?

“There are a lot of things that private enterprise can do that there’s no need for government to do. If there’s already a shoemaker in town, why would we fund bringing in more shoemakers to town with public money? It sounds like a dumb example, but it’s the analogy.

“On the other side, there are a lot of things that we see as beneficial that private enterprise will not do. Private enterprise was not going to build a shipyard in town.”