Overall, Jim Sykes has worked to build consensus wherever possible by inviting people's common sense ideas to solve common problems without interference from political parties. As we face tough times, we need to build on the foundation of better transparency and increased fiscal accountability to get through the rough patch without too much difficulty.
New Cooperation on Matanuska Riverbank Stabilization—Pressed for an Emergency Declaration and persuaded the DOT to protect people and property in addition to the road at no extra cost. Now we have a template to extend that process to other areas.
Transparency and Fiscal Responsibility—When I came to the Assembly in 2013, the budget was not online, there were no tools to help navigate it. Because I pushed for them they are there and still being upgraded. I found there was no strategic plan to consider our future risks and opportunities. I think it's essential we have a realistic plan and it is in the works because I pressed for it.
Conservative Financial Practices—I worked to keep the property tax mill rate level the past three years. Reserves are in good shape and the bond rating is high. The Borough population has grown from 78,000 in 2006 to 103,000, now delivering more services than ever with about the same number of employees. During the past three years the Borough built six new schools and $84 million of roads, and the debt service for all that is contained within the budget.
The State's $5.7 Million Cut—Immediately the Borough Manager implemented a hiring freeze, stoppage of non-essential travel and, delays of capital projects worth roughly $3 million in savings. I do not support raising property taxes or getting into reserves to back-fill the state cuts. Now we need to search for cuts and efficiencies in the borough budget with a more thorough and public examination of each department in the Borough to justify funding levels. Now that the financial crunch is real, we need to invite people's best ideas as Assembly Member Beck and I did two years ago. If revenue needs to be raised we can also use the opportunity to diversify our tax base and reduce the load on the property tax.
Education—I supported full funding for our schools as Mat-Su the only growing district in Alaska--up 6% two years in a row, and an expected increase of 3% this year. Having taught both home school and vocational school, I support our wide variety of excellent education opportunities because it is one of our best investments for our future. I attended many of the Joint School Board/Assembly meetings even though I was not a member of the committee.
Emergency Services—I have supported the restructuring of Borough emergency services, which is about halfway complete, to achieve a more smooth running and cost effective system. Emergency communications need to be upgraded as part of the process.
Sustina Ferry—I campaigned to sell it and the sale was completed June 30. Last November, I met with the attorney helping the Borough negotiate a final settlement with the federal government and that process continues.
Salmon Restoration—Salmon is food, tourism, small businesses, and life itself here in the Valley. Before I became a member of the borough Fish and Wildlife Advisory Board, I attended many meetings. This board has so much experience and expertise I was compelled to support a proposal for scientific studies of fish management changes in Upper Cook Inlet to restore threatened salmon runs in Mat-Su. It appears to be working. Now that I am on the board, it is essential we keep these programs going and test to make sure that recommendations are working. The end result will be more fish for Mat-Su rivers and more fish returning to Cook Inlet.
Fighting for Private Property Rights—When the state attempted to lease subsurface lands for mineral development under private property I joined with other property owners to successfully stop it.
New Agriculture Advisory Board—Together with Assembly Member Matthew Beck we restarted the Agricultural Advisory Board to get the agricultural community to bring advice from a variety of perspectives.