Candidate for the Ketchikan Borough Assembly - Three Year Term
List of Candidates
Who am I?
My name is Glen Thompson. Together with my wife, Amy, five cats and the occasional dog, I've lived in Ketchikan since 1987 (so depending on your definition, we are still Cheechakos?).
I started my career in Ketchikan working as a timber accountant for Wrangell Forest Products (Seley Corp) and later became controller. I also worked for Steve Seley when he operated the Ketchikan Shipyard in 1990-91. After I left Seley, I ran CATTS Computer Systems for a year before joining Tongass Sanitation as Vice President and General Manager in 1992. In 1999, Tongass was sold to Waste Management Inc. I stayed on for a couple years as General Manager for WM and then in 2002 I left to become the Director of the Ketchikan Small Business Development Center (UAS). In 2003, Tongass Sanitation was sold to a group of Alaskan investors and I was asked to come back to manage it.
So there you have it, I'm a trashy kind of guy!
I graduated from Washington State University with a BA in Finance in 1980 and I have worked in the construction industry (nuclear plants and high rises). I used to be a computer expert, owning my own consulting business and spent a year as VP Operations for a large computer manufacturer.
I have been active in the local community as a member of the Moose and the Elks, and for the past couple years I've been the Treasurer of the Elks. I have been a board member of the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce for two years, this year I'm the Secretary. I've taught small business accounting at the UAS Ketchikan campus as an adjunct professor. Since January of this year I've been Chair of the Ketchikan Charter Commission (Consolidation).
Yes, I'm a strong supporter of consolidation. It simply makes no sense for 13,000 people on this island to have two governments (maybe more depending on how you look at it) that seem to often work at cross-purposes. There are built-in inequities in this situation: 85% of commerce and associated sales taxes are collected inside the city limits while 40% of the people live in rural areas so about 33% of city sales tax is paid by non-city residents who receive limited benefit from them. Ketchikan Public Utilities is owned by the city yet provides service to the rural areas who have no say in prices or management. KPU also includes the city water utility and there is concern that city water is subsidized by electric and/or telephone rates. The city in turn operates the hospital, mental health services, library, museum, 911 dispatch, civic center and provides maintenance and operation on harbors in the rural area that benefit everyone yet are paid only from city coffers. We have two managers, assistant managers, attorneys, clerks, finance directors, human resource directors and public works directors.
The key to consolidation is to maintain current services without unfairly raising taxes. I believe our commission has proposed a plan that will do that: it's not perfect and involves a lot of compromise and consensus but it is a workable solution.
The bulk of our task on the commission is complete. We have spent the past eight months studying the operation and finances of the two governments. This in-depth analysis and debate gives the commission members a unique and keen insight to our government. Not less than three of us are running for election!
We differ somewhat on individual issues and priorities but all are willing to take on the thankless task to make the decisions to keep Ketchikan on the path to economic stability and maintain our wonderful community.
I fully support funding our schools to the legislative cap. The problem that continually arises with our school budgets is that we do not know what our state revenue will be at budget time and that is when we set our property tax mil levy. I support a resolution of the Assembly to urge our state government to institute forward funding of schools. This would represent a huge one-time expenditure at the state level but it could be either bonded or a loan could be made from the permanent fund or the congressional budget reserve.
I also believe our school board should look strongly at consolidating its duplicated functions with those of the Borough (specifically finance and data processing) to lower overall costs for both parties.
The number one priority for the borough should be dealing with the sewer sludge treatment problem. We are simply running out of room. The public health implications of septic mismanagement are dire. There should be a clear plan to address this situation. The borough also needs to do a better job of informing the public on the timeline, status and cost of public works projects such as the Sludge Treatment Facility at Ward Cove.
Major construction projects should be contracted out to construction management firms with firm fixed-price incentive contracts and liquidated damages for delays. The public's perception of the Borough's ability to manage construction projects is that they will always cost at least 50% more than original estimates, they will be late and there will be large warranty claims in the future. This is deplorable and needs fixing.
The transit (borough bus) department needs an overhaul because the plan has failed. We have seven bus drivers driving virtually empty buses that are subsidized to the tune of $325,000 per year. We need to increase ridership. One option might be to contract for services.
The airport continues to operate at a deficit. The organizational structure seems to be top heavy with supervision. This should be addressed in the next budget cycle.
Solid waste continues to be a problem, specifically littering. The areawide fee and "free dumping" at the landfill has not solved this problem. Either strict enforcement of littering laws or more public trash facilities are indicated.
The Borough needs to get Ward Cove back in private hands (and potentially on the tax roles) as soon as possible.
Care must be taken that the Borough does not confer a government sponsored competitive advantage to a private party at the expense of another, here I am referring to the proposed Cold Storage Facility.
The ethanol plant and the veneer plant need to get up and going. This is a situation of "if you build it, they will come" but it is not the facility but the log supply that the Borough should be focusing on: Are there Borough, State or Mental health lands that can supply logs? How do we convince the federal government to live up to the Tongass Timber Reform Act and create a long-term timber supply? Are there cooperative agreements to be had cross-border with our neighbors in Prince Rupert? Solve the log supply problem and the rest of the pieces will fall into place.
Parks and Recreation operates at a deficit. This is not unusual for municipalities, however activities that require dedicated resources of the borough such as the recreation center should be supported to a larger degree by user fees rather than taxes.
The sales tax code needs an overhaul. The senior citizen tax exemption is sometimes abused. Businesses bear the brunt of collection efforts and are burdened with draconian reporting requirements and governmental edicts. The borough tends to use a shotgun approach to compliance rather than targeting individual offenders: hence the 11x17 canary yellow notice to be prominently displayed at eye level in every business. I'm sure Cape Fox, having spent thousands to create a marketing ambiance loves that one.
Planning, Zoning, and Assessment
The public needs to know it can depend on the zoning laws. The borough needs to heed the planning commission on these issues and should consider a separately elected Board of Equalization.
Hot Button Issue:
The current "hot button" issue is the "Land Swap". The Land Swap represents a grant of over a million dollars to the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council (KAAHC). Although my wife and I are staunch supporters of the arts community, I continue to oppose the Land Swap for the following reasons:
1. The Borough simply can't afford it. We are running deficit budgets and continually raising taxes just to fund public schools and health and safety programs. Whether this is a donation of cash or hard assets, it's still a million dollars coming out of the public coffers.
2. It does not appear to be a project within the scope of the Borough powers unless one loosely considers it to be economic development or recreation.
3. The sketchy business plan indicates that it would compete for tourist dollars with existing businesses. If it is indeed a viable project that generates sufficient cash flow, conventional financing should be available. The government should not compete with private enterprise.
4. The Borough should not require all citizens to donate to a non-profit organization by donating public assets or tax dollars. The supporters should raise funds directly from the public. When public radio lost its federal funding, they went to their listeners and said, if you want us on the air, pony up, they did.
5. There are existing public facilities available in the community for the arts community to use. There is a state-of-the-art, 800 seat auditorium in the high school that was built with the arts community in mind (and even KAAHC says that some productions would still have to be put on there since the proposed arts center would be too small). The Southeast AK Visitors Center (SEAVC) has facilities and there are facilities at the Civic Center and the Recreation Center not to mention our churches and other schools. We are told that KAAHC needs a central location because it is too difficult to constantly store and mobilize their equipment and/or staff and schedule events at various locations.
6. The Recreation Center and the Civic Center were both supposed to be essentially self-supporting (as we are being told about the Arts Center) but both require substantial subsidies. History tends to repeat itself.
In conclusion, is it all bad? No. Are there real challenges? Yes. Do I want the job? You've got to be kidding; no one in his or her right mind would volunteer for this quagmire. If elected will I do my best to safeguard the public's funds and interests? You bet, after all part of that money is mine!