Contributed by Kevin S Baker, Baker's Campaign
My name is Kevin S. Baker and I am running for Mayor of Wasilla, for one reason: I care. Being non-partisan… Those that know me… It’s all good. Fortunately, for those who don’t know me… You only need to learn half of me, since the other half is symmetrical. I have seen Wasilla grow since 1984 and have witnessed many changes, some for the better and some not. Residents of Wasilla have been boxed in over the years in many different areas. This is our 100 year anniversary, and it’s time to look at different ideas.
I was married to my wife Lynn twenty-four years ago, at our home on Lake Lucille in Wasilla. Our children attended Iditarod Elementary, WMS and WHS. They have continued to make their homes in the Valley, along with our 7+ grandchildren. I attended Walla Walla High School and studied criminal justice at Walla Walla Community College. I moved to the Mat-Su Valley in 1984 where I began my career in real estate. I served on the Wasilla Planning Commission in 1999 and was co-owner of McKinley Title and Trust. Today, I am current owner of AlaskaMLS.com, a real estate company located in Wasilla.
I am opposed to the increased sales tax by the current administration for several reasons. In 2015, voters turned down a tax increase. This time it’s been rushed through, absent of seeking alternatives. The first public hearing was held in July. I talk to residents, most think they are voting for a tax increase that will sunset after the required funds needed for a public safety building are collected. They aren’t aware of the .5% that will not go away, but becomes added to the Wasilla sales tax, increasing it from 2% to 2.5% permanently. The tax for the public safety building should be a separate vote from a permanent increase. When questioned about that, the mayor responded that there was just not enough time to separate them and get in on the October ballot.
I believe that in the state of our economy, this is not a good time to propose a tax increase. Unemployment in the Valley has risen in the last year to 8.2%. People are struggling and I believe if this tax passes, things are only going to get worse. Our businesses in the city are already struggling trying to compete with Anchorage for discretionary income. We currently have 33% of residents in the area commuting to Anchorage for work with an additional 12% commuting to other areas. Studies have shown that those commuters are spending approximately 40% of their nondiscretionary income in Anchorage.
The current mayor said in a 2014 interview that he is focused on growing Wasilla. He stated, “If you want to go shopping in the Valley, you should come to Wasilla. I don’t want you to go to Anchorage.” Knowing the sales tax is one of the reasons commuters and non-commuters alike shop in Anchorage, this increase makes no sense. Give residents some incentive to shop local businesses and our economy will grow. With vacant spaces downtown, it is problematic to buy/sell.
I am in favor of allowing the cultivation and sale of cannabis in Wasilla. It makes much more sense to tax marijuana instead of school supplies. Public hearings were heavily in favor of this, however, the current administration thought the increased traffic, among other things, outweighed the economic advantages. Any new business industry may cause growing pains, but
I believe the increased revenue outweighs that.
For example, the City of Houston has projected marijuana revenue for the year 2018 to be $310,000, more than projected for in sales tax revenue, and nearly the same amount as projected for in property taxes. The Municipality of Anchorage collected $70,000 for the month of April, and are seeing an increase every month. We shouldn’t be turning away that potential income on one hand, and then holding the other out to ask for more taxes on everyday living expenses. I also favor investigating further involvement by the city in the cannabis industry. We may have a unique opportunity to dramatically increase our revenue stream. Imagine paying for things like increased police force, a new public safety building, addiction treatment centers and fairgrounds with taxes from the sale of legalized marijuana.
Another area I feel we have been boxed in is tourism. Imagine driving the Parks Highway through Wasilla. How many places can you picture that would draw tourists in to stop in Wasilla and spend some time and money. We need to open up some new ideas. Cannabis sales is one with peripheral residuals.
The current administration has been in an infinite loop of buy, spend and then ask for an increase in sales tax. Changing directions will benefit each citizen.
The Iditarod school property was purchased in May for the public’s use. Voters will decide by ballot measure Ordinance 17-15 whether the city will build a public safety building on the old school grounds, while permanently increasing the sales tax in Wasilla. If the public safety building is constructed, what happens to the remainder ten acres? A public safety building land use would set a precedent for the remainder lands. Land uses such as correctional facilities/penitentiaries are a permissible land use in Wasilla and should be considered for outlaw.
Alternately, use the school site for a college campus or Wasilla Fairgrounds. I will promote the city as being friendly to joint public/private developments that are in the public’s best interest.
Governing Wasilla shouldn’t be “because we’ve done it this way forever”. We need to be listening to the residents and business owners and resolve their concerns.
If you’re not registered to vote, you can still register until September 3rd at https://voterregistration.alaska.gov/.
We need a new mayor, and I would ask for your vote on October 3rd.