The Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum Wednesday with candidates running for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly. Nine people are running for two open seats on the Assembly. With less than an hour to answer questions, responses were limited to 30 seconds.
Six of the nine candidates attended Wednesday’s forum. They are Stephen Bradford, an attorney in private practice who is finishing up his term on the school board this year; Scott Davis, also known as Sheen Davis a retired borough employee who is new to the election ballot; Kim Hodne, a former safety director at Alaska Ship and Drydock, now retired; Susan Pickrell, who currently works with elders at Ketchikan Indian Community and previously served on the school board and KIC board; Trevor Shaw who works at Tongass Federal Credit Union and is in his second year of a three-year term on the school board; and Felix Wong, an engineer working at Vigor Industrial and also a political newcomer. Gabe Duckworth, Jason Mitchell and James Schenk did not attend.
Candidates were asked their strategies for addressing local funding given the state’s looming budget deficit.
Hodne says he would look to the private sector rather than the government.
“What I believe we need to do today? Hold the line, wait, don’t kick it down the road, and get ready to inspire the private sector. We’re not going to grow through the government, we’re going to grow through the private sector and broaden our tax base, not increase the tax.”
Most candidates agree balancing the budget will be difficult and require cuts, careful spending, planning and discussion.
Candidates were also asked if they believe the school district is adequately funded.
Bradford says funding is close to adequate, but should be increased. He says other districts, such as Juneau, fund their schools to 102 percent of the cap, the maximum allowed. Ketchikan funds at 70 percent. Bradford says he doesn’t support a large influx of money, but a small increase could make a big difference.
“For this past year, I think just an additional 300,000 to 400,000 dollars would have allowed us to really enhance the quality of education that we provide our kids. And that’s only one percent of our total budget.”
Shaw agreed that funding was close to where it should be, but says there should be additional funds for emergencies. Pickrell says she wants to see as much funding as possible, but added “you have to hold the line”. Wong says he strongly believes in supporting education.
“This is more of an investment for the future. I’m all for developing schools and education as much as we can and as much as it is possible.”
Hodne says he feels education is adequately funded, but is concerned with increased employee health care costs and wonders where money to pay that will come from. Davis says it’s up to the people and has overwhelmingly heard requests to fund to the cap.
Candidates were also asked whether they support adding another municipality, the City of Ward Cove.
Hodne thinks the idea is interesting but would want more information. Davis says it’s up to the voters. Bradford does not think it will be good for the Borough as a whole.
Pickrell says she doesn’t know much about the issue, but feels now is not the time given the state deficit and budget challenges.
“I don’t know that right now, with the state deficits that we’re looking at and the certain budget considerations, that now is the right time to do this. But I would really like to see what it’s going to cost, what it will mean to all of us here because we’re all in one community, and would absolutely like more information.”
Shaw is the petitioners’ representative for the petition to incorporate Ward Cove and supports the measure. He says if elected he would abstain from voting on any issues related to the incorporation of the City of Ward Cove.
Wong feels now is not the time to add more government. He says consolidation of governments makes more sense.
Candidates were then asked about consolidating the City and Borough governments. Davis says she does not support consolidation because the voters continue to vote against it. Pickrell and Hodne also oppose consolidation.
Bradford says it doesn’t make sense to have two governments, but if efforts to consolidate are tried again, he says there needs to be open discussion and decisions based on facts.
Shaw says he supports the concept of consolidation, but does not feel previous efforts have been done in a trustful manner. He also says it would cost more to consolidate.
Candidates were also asked about funding for non-profits, regulation of commercial marijuana sales and the rift between the City and Borough.
The local election is October 6th.
The complete audio for the forum follows.