Candidates outline positions during first of three forums
September 19, 2019
Five assembly candidates twice responded to questions on their ideas of the Haines Borough’s most pressing problems, ways to generate revenue, thoughts on resource extraction and policing, and how they would maintain balance if elected to the Haines Borough Assembly.
On Sept. 11, 25 people gathered at the first candidate forum hosted at the Mosquito Lake Community Center. Later that week, about 40 residents listened to nine questions prepared by the Haines Chamber of Commerce at a forum at the Aspen Hotel.
Candidates Sean Gaffney, Zephyr Sincerny, Paul Rogers and Gabe Thomas attended both forums. Candidate Sally McGuire was out of town visiting family in Maine, but submitted a written statement for the chamber forum.
In response to resident Dana Hallet’s question on what each candidate believes to be the most pressing issue facing the Chilkat Valley, all four candidates answered budget priorities.
“We need to be prepared for asking citizens of the borough, what do you want from your government? And what are you willing to pay for?” Rogers said.
Thomas said the borough will have to look at everything as essential versus non-essential, naming education and public safety as two priorities.
Gaffney said the borough will have to hear the public’s priorities “and get feedback from everybody in the valley.”
Sincerny offered looking at the cuts as a way to find opportunity during hardship. “What opportunity comes from the challenge?” he said.
REVENUE GENERATING IDEAS
“In light of those answers, what about revenue?” Mosquito Lake resident Julie Korsmeyer asked. “Should we be looking at new avenues to create more revenue?”
Thomas and Gaffney both suggested a seasonal sales tax to maximize benefits from tourists. To compensate for disproportionately affecting locals, Thomas offered giving locals a break on heating fuel or a lower sales tax in the winter.
Gaffney said that, while he’s been a proponent of the seasonal sales tax, he hadn’t vetted the idea with community members, and could see how it might negatively impact summertime home builders.
Zephyr suggested supporting and promoting town events, including the Southeast Alaska State Fair and Beerfest. “I think that increasing the season of tourism and visitorship to Haines, those events bring folks to Haines and stimulate our economy.”
Rogers was wary of generating new taxes that could disproportionally affect low income community members. He suggested allocating retired, transplanted Alaskans’ permanent fund dividend money to help local governments.
“I think the Alaska Permanent Fund should be for those Alaskans that have lived here all their lives, or perhaps it should be prorated over the time that you’ve been here,” he said. “Why not use that money from people like me and my wife to help local governments?”
Sincerny said yes, and reiterated his support of a seasonal sales tax.
Thomas said he believed in the old philosophy of “we can’t tax ourselves into prosperity.” As for new taxes- “I don’t see how we can produce new taxes right now with the mill rate going to increase… because it hurts the lower class.”
Gaffney said he would want to look at the budget carefully before pursuing new taxes. “The honest answer is that the budget is challenging right now, and we need to go through it with a different level of detail than what’s happened recently. If we do need additional taxes, I’d try to find a way to make sure that they were spread as equitably as possible across the community.”
Rogers said, “I think we need to be careful that we don’t have regressive taxes. We need to do it in such a way that we grow business and we need to not have unfair, unequal taxes.”
All four candidates said they support responsible resource extraction.
Thomas said he worked in the oil industry for 20 years, and feels that responsible extraction is doable with state and federal regulation. “The main thing would be if the borough is more friendly toward (industry)” Thomas said. “We need to show that we’re open for businesses. We’ve got to plan for it when they’re done, though.”
Sincerny said that scale is important. “I definitely support sustainable, small-scale harvest,” he said, naming timber and fishing industries. “When it comes to large scale, industrial scale, I think that’s where we need to be very mindful about how we go about it.”
Gaffney said he supports responsible resource extraction. “I value our local timber companies a lot and I think there’s room for growth for them, and I support it wholeheartedly.”
Rogers said he supports fishing, mining, tourism and mining in one form or another without micromanagement from the assembly. “We need to look to the federal government and the state government on things like mining and timber harvesting,” he said. “It’s appropriate to look to them for their expertise rather than try to create that here.”
PUBLIC PROCESS ON THE ASSEMBLY
Pat Heffley asked candidates Wednesday how they would work with other assembly members toward solutions and maintain healthy, honest and fair discussions.
“You just simply need to be civil,” Gaffney said. He said the boards he’s worked on have good reputations for working together with respect.
Sincerny said he would bring personal core values of integrity, compassion, respect and a desire to be of service to others. “As an assembly, when a decision is made, even if I don’t agree with it, it’s my duty then to support my team.”
Rogers said that he can glean useful information from people he doesn’t agree with. “I also have found that it is harmful to any group for someone to slight or attack another person in a meeting because once that happens, the person who is slighted or attacked can’t hear any good that you’re going to say from that point forward,” he said. “So I think control of meetings is extremely important.”
Thomas said he would navigate conflict by leading by example and being prepared. “We all live here and we’ve got to see each other the next day. We’ve got to leave it at the door.”
Daniel Fitzpatrick asked the candidates’ view on boroughwide policing outside of the townsite service area. “We already voted and said ‘No thank you’,” he said. “I would like to know how all four of you feel because it’s going to come up as soon as you’re elected.”
Rogers, Thomas and Gaffney said they would respect the former vote of out-of-town residents, though they believe that emergency services are allowable by current charter interpretation.
Sincerny said he thinks the challenge is if folks are looking at the issue from the perspective of their friend or family calling for help in an emergency. “That can be very important to have that response on the other end if it’s a life-threatening situation,” he said. “I’d love a little more time to collect my thoughts on it.”
Thomas said that he doesn’t see a need for areawide policing on a regular basis. “If we start taking on too much as a local borough, we’re leaving the state out of it,” he said. “One day, the state may come back and say ‘Oh, we got money. But oh, you guys took care of yourself.’”
“The only right thing is respecting the vote of the people,” Gaffney said. “This isn’t the first time it was voted on; it was voted on repeatedly during consolidation. This issue has been failing votes for a very long time. There is emergency dispatch, it’s in the charter.”
Rogers said he thinks police can respond to emergencies, but not anything else.
McGuire’s prepared statement, read aloud by chamber member Wendell Harran at the beginning of the forum was: “I’m running because I want to help Haines move in a sustainable way into the future. We have a very diversified economy based on subsistence, tourism, fishing, small business, and a lot of other things. We have a solid governing structure with good people working for us. On specific issues facing Haines, the most critical one is the Constantine mine. Virtually all of our existing business is directly or indirectly dependent on keeping the Chilkat River healthy. Many people support the mine on the grounds that it would bring in jobs, which it would of course, but I think that Haines needs to consider very carefully the other impacts.”
The Chilkat Valley News and KHNS will host a final community forum on Friday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at the Chilkat Center. McGuire will be absent from the forum, though her answers will be pre-recorded and broadcast alongside others.