Ketchikan Borough Election
I will bring 40 years of experience, knowledge, and expertise in Alaska local government to the Assembly. For nearly 10 of those years I served as the Ketchikan Borough Manager.
We need experienced leadership to navigate through the fiscal challenges and other serious matters ahead. I expect that the State will attempt to push even more of its costs onto local governments as it whittles away at its $700 million deficit. Consider, for example, that the Legislature’s finance division recently released a 7-page publication titled Options for Reducing State Funding of Alaska's Schools (copy available on my website). A more accurate and candid title would be “Options for Shifting State Responsibilities for Funding of Alaska’s Schools to Boroughs.”
That publication outlines seven options – all of which will add drastically to the costs of the Ketchikan Borough. Some of those seven options would have more impact than others (some as much as $2.4 million annually or more). Ketchikan needs a leader who recognizes the threats, knows how to evaluate them, and has the judgment to find the best ways to respond to them.
Skeptics (“realists” is a better noun) speculate that the legislature has postponed implementation of any of the “options for reducing state funding of Alaska’s schools” only because 2018 is an election year – so watch out after January 15, 2019, when the next legislature convenes.
The federal government is also looking for ways to trim its $4.4 trillion budget. Secure Rural Schools is a target. Funding for that program has been declining about 10% annually for the past several years (see graph on my website). The program expired previously, leaving the Borough with no Secure Rural Schools funding in Fiscal Year 2017 (about a $1 million loss). However, the program was temporarily renewed for Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 only because funding was included in the budget-busting 2,232-page $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill which added to the federal government’s $21-trillion debt.
There are numerous other fiscal threats facing us. Nonetheless, some candidates advocate strongly to fund our schools to the cap. While all candidates support good schools, myself included, I alone pointed out the additional $2.5 million annual cost of funding to the cap. The fiscal impact of funding to the cap is equivalent to an overall increase in property taxes ranging from 14.7% to 34% depending on the location of the property (see chart on my website). We currently spend $48 million for our schools -- $21,000 per student.
Because I recognize the fiscal threats and am vocal about them, some have repeatedly characterized me during this campaign as a “doom and gloom” candidate – I consider myself to be the only “experienced, knowledgeable, and forthright” candidate. Inexperience, limited knowledge, lack of awareness, and an unwillingness to voice concerns are not characteristics of a leader.
I HAVE THE QUALITIES TO SERVE OUR COMMUNITY EFFECTIVELY
I have an exceptional history of employment which demonstrates both capability and stability. In my 40 years of local government service in Alaska, I have worked for only three employers. In each case, I left the job at my will with an excellent record.
On July 14, 2007, as the Assembly began the search for a new Borough Manager, the Ketchikan Daily News published an editorial which outlined characteristics that were essential for the position.
I was fortunate to have been selected as that new Borough Manager. Because I held the position longer than anyone before me, I want to believe that I possess the qualities called for in the editorial. Those qualities included excellent leadership and decision-making skills, open-mindedness, transparency, being well prepared, having proven professional experience, ethical, of high integrity and good character, with common sense, care for the community, and respect for citizens. The editorial stressed that those same qualities were essential for Borough Assembly Members.
When I retired in January 2017, the Mayor and Assembly adopted a resolution thanking me for my service and outlining my qualities and qualifications – including all those traits from the 2007 editorial and more.
BACKGROUND AND EXPERIENCE
After graduating from high school, I served in the U.S. Air Force. When I returned home, I married and began my college education at an accelerated pace so that I could graduate and begin working full time. I graduated magna cum laude with a BA degree in Management from Saint Martin’s University in Washington state.
I then began a 40-year career in the field of local government in Alaska. My first job in Alaska was as the Haines City Administrator. After working in that job for four years, I was invited by the Director of Alaska’s constitutional local government agency to work as a local government specialist.
I gained invaluable experience and expertise in that position, traveling throughout Alaska and dealing with many of Alaska’s 164 local governments and 53 school districts on complex matters. During that time, I worked on several issues relating to Ketchikan. Those included drawing the 1991 model borough boundaries which later led to the Ketchikan Borough’s annexation of some 4,500 square miles. That annexation of unorganized territory most closely tied to Ketchikan brought many millions of dollars in revenues for our Borough. I also dealt with the 2000 and 2004 Ketchikan consolidation proposals, and several annexation proposals by the City of Ketchikan.
I also served as a resource to legislators on local government issues. In one case, I played a key role assisting Senator Gary Wilken of Fairbanks in drafting a law (Chapter 95, SLA 2001) that substantially reduced the State’s education tax on boroughs. To date, that tax cut has saved Ketchikan Borough taxpayers $19.5 million. Repeal of that tax cut is one of the seven “options for reducing state funding of Alaska's schools” that I referred to above.
Ultimately, I became the highest ranking and longest serving local government specialist in the agency’s history. I was selected to be the Manager of the Ketchikan Borough in 2007 and served in that position for nearly a decade.
If elected, I would pursue my priorities which are outlined below.
Stewardship of your money. Diligence in spending is critical. While I was Borough Manager, the areawide property tax rate was reduced by more than 25%, taxes were eliminated on personal property, and the Borough’s General Fund balance was restored from a sub-standard $2.9 million to a healthy $8.4 million.
Today, we enjoy good services, but they come at a cost. Per capita, Ketchikan’s taxes are 23.4% higher than Sitka’s, 28.2% above Petersburg’s, and 44.2% more than Wrangell’s. Also, as a percentage of income, our taxes are higher than Juneau’s. Annual areawide Borough taxes have increased by more than $2 million since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017.
Of particular concern is the action taken this year by a 4-3 split vote on the Assembly concerning education funding. The Assembly-majority changed the blueprint for the Local Education Fund by appropriating all the anticipated income flowing into the Fund this year, leaving nothing to add to the cushion in that fund.
Architects of the Borough’s Local Education Fund (of which I was one) intended to grow the balance in that fund annually to provide a “soft landing” for our schools in the increasing likelihood of significant cuts in state and/or federal funding.
Ultimately, the approach taken this year will be harmful for our schools for two reasons. First, it promotes artificially higher spending in the short-term (this year’s appropriation even substantially exceeded the funding requested by the School Board). Second, higher short-term spending means a smaller reserve in the Fund.
Ensure Accountability. Transparency, open meetings, disclosure, accessibility to public records, and ethics are essential.
Build Trust in Government. Borough officials have earned our trust, but there are ways to increase confidence in our local government. To that end, if elected, I would pursue enactment of local laws clearly setting out fiduciary duties that Borough officials owe to our citizens.
Maintain Smart Fiscal Policies. The Assembly has enacted property and sales tax exemptions and other measures as sound fiscal policies developed over decades. They do far more to promote economic development than any other actions of the Borough. I would fight any effort to repeal exemptions. Besides being poor public policy, repeal of exemptions would be nothing more than a hidden tax increase. The exemptions bring about a more robust community which creates economies of scale that allow Ketchikan to enjoy a greater level of services.
Face Fiscal Challenges. Borough officials must foresee looming fiscal challenges stemming largely from state and federal government efforts to push their responsibilities and costs onto local governments. The Borough must fight challenges wherever and whenever it can prevail. It must also plan and prepare for challenges that can’t be overcome.
YOUR VOTE IS YOUR VOICE – PLEASE USE IT
On average during the past decade, just one in four registered voters cast a ballot in Ketchikan Borough regular elections. The voters who stayed home forfeited their voting power to those who showed up at the polls. In effect, one voter exercised the power of four voters.
Regarding Borough leaders and propositions, those who voted during the past decade:
A principal reason that registered voters stay home is the perception that their votes don’t matter. Not so! The outcome of a proposition or election of a candidate may be settled by a few votes. In 2015, one Assembly race was decided by only 27 votes. The following year, a million-dollar tax proposition was decided by only 73 votes. Clearly, every vote counts.
In conclusion, I urge you to exercise your right to vote. I hope you will consider me as your candidate of choice; I will work hard for you and other citizens of our Borough.
Please visit my website at www.DanBockhorst.com for more information.
Candidate for Borough Assembly
Paid for by Dan Bockhorst, 3962 Big Rock Road, Ketchikan, Alaska 99901
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