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
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
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.
Ketchikan, AK - USA
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