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Time for accountability, innovation, and ideas
by Patrick Jirschele


June 07, 2004

On Tuesday we are to vote on taxes. Not whether to have more tax, but how we are to be taxed. We have a choice of a new half-cent sales tax or raising the mill rate on property more than it will be raised anyway. We are told that the sales tax will be dedicated to school funding, so if you vote against it you are against supporting education. The money will be dedicated, but it will free up money for other things.

There are two good times to evaluate the performance of our government. Election time and when they want to raise taxes. Through our taxes Government provides the essential services we need to be a community.

The elected officials and the government employees are the stewards of the property owned by government, which is ultimately owned by the taxpayers. They are responsible for the operation of government, the hiring and firing of employees, the maintenance of buildings, the letting of contracts, and bonding for new assets. They manage our money. Do you think they are managing your money wisely?

When a large new asset such as a school is needed, the government gets a loan. They use revenue from taxes to pay the loan. When you or I buy a house, we make a down payment and pay interest on a loan. If we fail to make payments, we lose the house and probably what we paid into it. So we try to prevent this from happening by cutting back on other expenses, or get a second job so we can make our payments. Government can cut expenses by cutting programs or even what some consider essential services, or raise taxes. This is the point we are at now and none of the choices are good for the community.

An increase in the sales tax will get some revenue from the tourist industry, but will also impact the few year round businesses we have left. Competition with untaxed Internet businesses that have low overhead, Seattle stores, and Wal-Mart is tough and more tax will surely put some under.

The most popular yard ornament in the Borough is a "For Sale" sign. Many work-a-day residents are just making it from paycheck to paycheck. An increase in mill rate translates into higher rent and mortgage rates. For some it can mean paying rent or buying food. The less fortunate always pay highest for the mistakes of government.

A few years ago the Federal Government gave us 25 million dollars to invest in our future. Through a series of questionable decisions we have bought a relic of our past. The largest industrial site in the Borough, replete with environmental encumbrances that have never been quantified, belongs to the Borough and is off the tax rolls. A superfund site that is hemorrhaging tax dollars and competing with private tax paying enterprise. When there was a call for an investigation, those who made the decisions voted against seeking the truth. One said it would be a "witch hunt ". If witches got us into this mess, I say hunt them down.

Schoenbar School is another nightmare for parents, students and taxpayers. Mistakes have resulted in an extra year delay in reopening and an estimated four to five million dollars in cost overruns. To date no one has been held responsible. It is easier to pick the pockets of the taxpayer.

Around 1984 three studies were done on the condition of White Cliff school. They uncovered problems from resistance to wind shear, to wiring, and much more. These studies were used to justify building the school at Point Higgins. Can it be a surprise that twenty years later the building is uninsurable? Didn't we vote to bond a new school years ago? Where is the money? A little less effort needs to be put into getting a private driveway for a Gravina business and more on minding the essential services. We are cheating our children.

What can we do? The first thing we need to do is restore credibility to the Borough government. The loss of the use of one school is careless, the loss of two unconscionable. It shows total and absolute dereliction of duty. All aspects need to be investigated, from contracts to design and engineering. There are no acts of god in construction. Only mistakes. The message needs to be sent that cost overruns will not be tolerated, deadlines will be met, and workmanship will meet acceptable standards. Bonds need to be forfeited and the people responsible, from the top to the bottom, need to be held accountable.

The Ward Cove debacle must be investigated. Even if there was no wrong doing, it has the look of it. Until all the cards are turned up and on the table, the whispers of corruption will continue. If the Borough is unwilling to investigate, help should be sought from the State or possibly the FBI since it was Federal money.

All goods and services need to be taxed whether they are sold on board a ship, on the docks, internet, or in a local store. If you plan to profit from Ketchikan and our infrastructure, you should have to pay your part. It is ridiculous for a cruise ship to bring hundreds of beds into town and pay no occupancy tax while a hotel owner must compete with them and pay sales, occupancy and property taxes.

Now is the time for accountability, innovation, and ideas. In the mean time, Vote.

Patrick Jirschele
Ketchikan, AK - USA



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