Filling a vacancy

Today at 4:30 p.m. the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly will interview five people who applied to fill the vacant District 1 CBJ Assembly seat. The meeting will take place at city hall, and it’s open to the public.

By Tuesday evening, the Assembly will announce who fill the seat, either until October or until the special mayoral election in March should Mayor Mary Becker decide not run and instead reclaim her former seat.

The public won’t ultimately decide which of the five applicants will temporarily fill the open D1 seat. However, the Empire has put together issue-based applicant profiles — an introduction of sorts — so that come Tuesday you will be familiar with the person chosen to represent you, for the next few months at least.

We asked the same four questions of each applicant:

1) What, above all, do you hope to accomplish during your temporary term? Explain why this is a priority and how you’d make it happen.

2) Housing, or the lack thereof, is a perennial problem facing the Assembly. What actions would you suggest taking to solve this problem?

3) As Alaska tightens its proverbial belt, city revenue is likely to shrink as well. What are your suggestions for increasing efficiency in Juneau and/or reducing the municipal budget?

4) At some point in the near future, likely during your temporary term, the Assembly will have to decide what the city is going to do with its biosolids (the solid-waste byproduct of the wastewater treatment process). How would you recommend tackling this problem?

Here are their answers:

 

Al Clough

1) The number one priority for this Assembly should be to recruit and hire a new borough manager to replace Kim Kiefer who has already announced her retirement. The borough manager is the chief executive for Juneau, and it is imperative a qualified candidate is recruited and hired. During my previous tenure on the Juneau Assembly, we had to replace two borough managers and as such I have first-hand experience in this action. Finding and hiring the new borough manager will be my highest priority during this temporary Assembly position.

2) Housing has been an issue in Juneau for many years. This cyclic nature of our economy has stifled investment combined with the inherent high cost of new construction in the borough. Nevertheless, the borough has been successful in facilitating selective housing projects over the years such as Fireweed Place (downtown senior housing). Also, any action by the borough to free up lands for development, either borough lands through sale to the private sector, or code changes which lower development costs could serve to encourage new housing development. Code changes which would allow the development of sub-standard lots for “tiny houses” is an example of positive actions which could be taken by the borough.

3) State budget problems will certainly trickle down to the municipal level. Whether though layoffs and other state employee reductions which will negatively affect the Juneau job base or through state paid services which will be passed along to municipal governments; Juneau will see budget impacts. It is imperative our local government become leaner and more efficient. This is why it is so important we hire the proper borough manger to lead the city through these challenges. The sky is “far from falling” but we do need to be much more efficient. The municipal Assembly can set the tone for such by directing a new manager to streamline rather than grow the bureaucracy as well as enact ordinances, which simplify rather than complicate government.

4) When I was on the Assembly, Juneau had a sewage sludge burner at Thane, which was problematic at best. Sludge compost ideas have been suggested by some as a form of muskeg fill but this idea has never gained any traction for obvious reasons. Our biosolid solution, along with the ultimate solution for garbage (as opposed to the Lemon Creek landfill) may very well be to ship these products south to already constructed and permitted facilities.

 

Arnold Liebelt

1) Being that this is an appointment and not an election, my job will be to get up to speed as quickly as possible. I will use my background and experience to address upcoming and ongoing issues the Assembly is facing. Regardless of the issue, my priority will be to protect and to grow the working class. As a policy analyst, I know how to evaluate projects in terms of cost, public benefit, and unintended consequences. Legalization of marijuana is an example of where we want to identify the unintended consequences so we better understand the true cost of this new industry.

2) Juneau housing is a complex issue and there is no quick easy fix. We need to be sensitive that new housing coming on the market reflects our aging population. Higher density housing will be needed for seniors to continue to live independently. The senior population is expected to grow by 103 percent in the next 30 years. As seniors transition into more independent (or supported living) arrangements, more single family homes will come on the market. The city could change some areas to higher density zoning. Downtown is an example with tremendous housing opportunity. Tearing down the Gastineau Apartments will bring new housing on the market in a great location, and hopefully with retail space on the street level.

3) Living within our means requires us to streamline our services and eliminate programs that we can no longer afford. Performance measures are necessary in order to help guide these decisions. We need to look at what we are legally obligated to do as a city, and then look at all the other programs we provide, but that are not critical or not truly a community responsibility. The city primarily receives state funds through Revenue Sharing, education, and capital appropriations. Reductions in these areas will impact Juneau, but the bigger impact occurs when state employees move to another community to secure employment. When this happens, money leaves Juneau twice. Once when the person leaves to secure other employment, twice when their family no longer participates in the local economy. I do not support increasing property tax to compensate for the loss in state revenue. To do so would increase the burden on the working class, especially when the state is looking at implementing a state income tax.

4) This project is not a glamorous one, but unless we want to build an outhouse on every property, it is a necessary one. Sanitation is a basic service of any local government, and it is a need that will never go away. The only real long-term affordable solution is to construct a dryer for the biosolids on location at the sewage treatment plant. The cost is $16 million up front plus $800 thousand annually. With a life span of 20 years, this is the most cost effective option with no draw backs. Amortized over its lifespan, the cost will be about $1.6 million annually. That’s $400 thousand less than the cost of current practice. If we consider inflation over 20 years, the overall cost looks even better.

 

Cheryl Jebe

1) Hopefully help with selecting a new city manager, a very crucial position.

2) Work with the city manager, in conjunction with other Assembly members to continue initiatives outlined in the Juneau Economic Development Plan adopted in February 2015.

3) Work with the city manager, in conjunction with other Assembly members, to review the efforts to date and suggest areas of consolidation. While this has occurred recently with the combination of two departments under one umbrella (one director rather that two) more will be required from staff as the budget shrinks.

4) Work with the city manager, in conjunction with other Assembly members, to find and adopt a solution that is both efficient and economical for Juneau.

 

Douglas Mertz

1) With the short time frame, I’d listen carefully to my colleagues in order to serve the long-term interests of Juneau and District 1. That includes working with the Assembly to involve younger people in the issues that affect them most, such as housing and a good economy.

2) I would encourage the efforts already underway that show promise of more housing, such as the efforts of Housing First and CBJ housing coordinator. I would look at all at ways that various parts of local government can cooperate with the private sector to provide land, a positive regulatory climate, and needed planning for infrastructure to make more housing happen.

3) First we must make sure that the Legislature does not reduce the state budget by cutting aid to local government and local schools. Then we should take every element of local government and examine what is essential, what is helpful, and what can be eliminated. 

4) The borough has already looked at different technologies, but the technology of biosolids treatment and disposal is moving fast, so we must keep looking at what others are doing for long-term solutions. We should never allow people to say that CBJ is reluctant to consider new technologies and new ways of approaching old problems.

 

Barbara Sheinberg

1) Above all else, in my temporary term I hope to assist my Assembly colleagues in thoughtful deliberation and decision-making. I will do this through a combination of reading and analyzing our packets and support material, and also bringing my knowledge of local and regional economic, community, and planning issues to the table.

2) The CBJ Housing Action Plan was just issued; let’s use it. It notes Juneau’s housing market is “tight” but not “hot” and has been for years. It suggests public intervention is required to solve housing here. I like incremental ideas like the new CBJ $6,000 grant to incentivize accessory apartment construction. Strategic use of CBJ (and state) land would help. Bigger actions are needed too. The Willoughby District Plan calls for 400 more housing units in that area in 20 years. We need to elevate a few priority targets like this to focus public intervention. I just got back from the Governor’s Housing Summit, which looked partly at revenue-neutral solutions. We need the state Legislature to pass a Housing Bill to enable new tools for cities and developers such as a State Housing Trust, allowing use of New Market Tax Credits for residential development, and enabling Tax Increment Financing and Development Agreements. I also heard about Minnesota’s successful state-level “one-stop one-application financing shop” for developers that pools housing financing (and allows efficient leveraging of $), which AHFC could do here.

3) The parts of the CBJ budget most affected by state funding are education, capital projects, and revenue sharing. Quality of local education is a strong factor in attracting and retaining a professional workforce and turning out a well-qualified future workforce. I support full funding of education. State funding of CIPs is moving to bonds; we need to keep our construction sector going strong and ensure that CBJ projects are part of proposed State bond packages. In the last two years CBJ departments have been consolidated and positions eliminated. Deeper cuts will require citizen help defining non-essential programs. Given our strong tourism, I’d like to see numbers run on a seasonal sales tax here with a higher in the summer and lower rate during the rest of the year. Would this benefit our revenues?

4) I support construction of a Thermal Dryer with a Heat Recovery Furnace, ideally at the Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Plant. It should be sized so it can also accept wood waste too. Recently, a new option emerged for a private company to “monofill” the biosolids for little capital cost. While I need to hear more, my concern with this option is lack of CBJ control of the waste stream. I feel the lack of CBJ control over our landfill is causing many problems for Juneau.

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