Juneau Assembly District 2 candidates Dixie Hood, left, Jerry Nankervis, center, and Jason Puckett answer questions during the Juneau Votes! debate held at the University of Alaska Southeast on Tuesday.

Juneau Assembly District 2 candidates Dixie Hood, left, Jerry Nankervis, center, and Jason Puckett answer questions during the Juneau Votes! debate held at the University of Alaska Southeast on Tuesday.

Municipal candidates debate at UAS

Tuesday night’s municipal candidate debate added new voices to old discussions, but rarely did challengers and incumbents lock horns.

Using questions about some of the community’s most divisive issues — including affordable housing, substance abuse, budget shortfalls and development directives — the debate’s moderators pitted candidates against one another. With few exceptions, however, the two mayoral candidates seemed to be bring the most dissimilar ideas to the table. 

The mayoral and District Two Assembly seats are contested. Incumbent Loren Jones is running unopposed for open District One Assembly seat.

All six municipal candidates participated in the debate, which was held at the University of Alaska Southeast campus and was hosted by Juneau Votes!, the Juneau Empire and KTOO Public Media. The Empire’s Managing Editor Charles Westmoreland and KTOO reporter Matt Miller moderated the debate.

The municipal election will be help Oct. 6.

 

A brooding budget

Tough cuts and economic expansion. Essentially all the municipal candidates agreed that these will be the necessary ingredients of any city measures bracing for the forecasted state budget cuts.

Incumbent Assembly member Jerry Nankervis said that the Assembly has already started down the right track to help Juneau withstand any unfavorable budget decisions handed down by the state legislature.

Nankervis cited the work of the Assembly’s Tax Exemption Review Committee, of which he was a member, as key in pushing the city toward a more sustainable budget. The recent restriction of the senior sales tax was one of the committee’s recommendations.

Most candidates, including all of Nankervis’ opponents, applauded the Assembly’s decision to cut back the senior sales tax exemption. The city estimates it will bring in about $1 million dollars in revenue each year, in addition to ending the $400,000 yearly tax-revenue hemorrhage that was only getting worse as more people became eligible for the exemption.

Greg Fisk, a mayoral candidate, called the Assembly’s decision to restrict the tax exemption a “fair job.” Incumbent Mayor Merrill Sanford, who voted against the measure in the Assembly, was the only candidate not to support the measure.

“Taxes should only be done as a last resort,” Sanford said when asked why he voted against restricting the exemption.

Candidate responses regarding how they would brace for likely budget cuts differed, but only slightly. Many candidates talked about what they might cut. A few candidates, however, proposed ideas that they said will expand the economy.

“There’s no low-hanging fruit left in the budget,” Fisk said before introducing a plan, which he has brought to the Assembly before, to bring NOAA fisheries jobs from Seattle to Juneau.

Nankervis suggested a possible tax abatement for development that he said would “get people reinvesting in housing.”

Assembly candidate Dixie Hood said the city will need to “get creative” with economic development solutions. She ran out of time before she could provide details.

 

Housing holdups

No municipal candidate debate in Juneau would be complete without addressing one the Assembly’s perennial problems: high housing costs. The issue provided an early battleground for Fisk and Sanford.

“The only way we’re going to make things affordable is if we get a higher percentage of rental units on the market, that and homes,” Sanford said.

He went on to explain how the Assembly recently passed an ordinance making the subdivision process easier, which he saw as a victory for housing. Fisk critiqued the ordinance, saying it was too little, too late.

“Those policies should have been in place for a long time, and they haven’t been,” Fisk said.

Fisk and Sanford also disagreed about the handling of the Gastineau Apartments demolition.

Fisk said that the Assembly dragged its feet dealing with the ruined apartments, shuttered by a fire in November 2012.

“It has been four years now, and that blighted building has effected all the property around it,” he said.

Sanford said that the Assembly hasn’t acted slowly considering it has had to work with the property owners, who have been difficult to deal with.

Fisk said that the city should have an ordinance regarding neighborhood blight, as other cities do, to prevent this type of situation from arising again.

Piggybacking off of points made by Nankervis and Hood, Assembly candidate Jason Puckett said that lowering housing costs would be crucial to preventing capitol creep. Nankervis and Hood both said the state should mandate that more government positions be based out of Juneau.

 

Marijuana morass

Marijuana was one of the few issues that caused conflict between the Assembly candidates.

Responding to a question about the potential impact of legal marijuana on Juneau’s children, Puckett said that he the thinks legalization will decrease “under the table dealings.” He said that kids are already smoking marijuana and that legalization will decrease the numbers of young users.

Nankervis called Puckett’s position on the matter “naïve.”

“Every time you have increased availability, you have increased abuse. Every time,” he said before expressing concerns about edibles being used in schools.

Hood, a family therapist, said that drug use by people under the age of 20 is bad for mental development.

Most candidates, however, agreed that smoking parlors would be necessary if the city wants to market to cruise passengers.

Juneau Assembly mayor candidates Greg Fish, left, and Merrill Sanford answer questions during the Juneau Votes! debate held at the University of Alaska Southeast on Tuesday. The candidates from the left are: Greg Fisk, Serrill Sanford, Loren Jones, Dixie Hood, Jerry Nankervis and Jason Puckett.

Juneau Assembly mayor candidates Greg Fish, left, and Merrill Sanford answer questions during the Juneau Votes! debate held at the University of Alaska Southeast on Tuesday. The candidates from the left are: Greg Fisk, Serrill Sanford, Loren Jones, Dixie Hood, Jerry Nankervis and Jason Puckett.

Juneau Assembly candidates answer questions from the audience during the Juneau Votes! debate held at the University of Alaska Southeast on Tuesday. The candidates from the left are: Greg Fisk, Merrill Sanford, Loren Jones, Dixie Hood, Jerry Nankervis and Jason Puckett.

Juneau Assembly candidates answer questions from the audience during the Juneau Votes! debate held at the University of Alaska Southeast on Tuesday. The candidates from the left are: Greg Fisk, Merrill Sanford, Loren Jones, Dixie Hood, Jerry Nankervis and Jason Puckett.

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