Friday, September 30, 2011

Palmer council candidates share views on parks, spending and more

Post photo by Rindi White
One Palmer resident took an equal-opportunity approach to candidate support.

Mike Chmielewski, Linda Combs and Brad Hanson are running for two seats on the Palmer City Council. Election day, Oct. 4, is fast approaching. We contacted the candidates by email to seek their views on issues facing the city. Here are our five questions, followed by the responses they sent. 

The city's $1.1 million upgrade of the MTA Events Center was necessary to move the Alaska Avalanche junior hockey team to Palmer from Wasilla. Was the city's investment of tax dollars justified?
MIKE: Yes. I supported the concept when originally presented. This was a case where the city was able to see an opportunity for the expansion of a much-used hockey facility. The obligation however, remains for a continuing oversight of our contractual relationship with users. We must ensure that we have staff up to the task of continuing negotiation and oversight.
LINDA:  The initial investment and any ongoing expenditures do seem to be rather large given the City of Palmer's limited funding options in today's economic climate but I do feel they are justified because of the potential of profitability just like the Palmer Golf Course and because it adds a great deal to the quality of life for the citizens of Palmer. Palmer did not have a multi-use facility in the past and the MTA Events Center is addressing that need.           
BRAD: Upgrading the MTA Events Center is in the best interest of the City of Palmer.  When the building was opened in 2005 there were still improvements that were necessary to maximize the functionality of the building. With this latest round of upgrades it will become a fully functioning, multi-purpose facility.  The Avalanche is a by-product of increasing this functionality. Additionally, when the MTA Events Center was originally constructed, the city leveraged our resources with many other organizations and built a cost-effective facility. In this second phase of construction we are using this same philosophy. Over $975,000 came from state grants and from other sources. $565,000 came in the form of grants from the state, $50,000 came from the Mat-Su Health Foundation, $60,000 came from the Avalanche and $300,000 was for the naming rights for the facility. The city investment was justified when you consider for a couple hundred thousand dollars we get an organization that provides quality entertainment, and increases the economic vitality of the community, while the community has a facility that will long serve as a center of social, recreational and economic activity at very little cost to its residents.

A decision on the hotly contested measure over banning smoking in public places in Palmer has been postponed until Oct. 11, after the city election. Where do you stand on this issue?
MIKE: I support the ordinance. Over the last two years I have carefully studied the issue. From a public health standpoint there is no question in my mind that second-hand smoke is harmful. From an economic standpoint there is overwhelming evidence that places that have gone smoke free are not harmed, with perhaps one exception: declining sales from tobacco products. From a freedom of choice perspective, I believe limiting smoking falls within the category of other laws such as speed limits.
LINDA: I am conflicted on this issue due in no small part because of the conversations I have had with dozens of citizens, many of whom are business owners, who feel that the ordinance is in fact an example of too much governmental intrusion. In the past decade the majority of Palmer businesses have voluntarily chosen to become smoke free and there has been no need for a city ordinance. With a citizen's petition before the City Council containing 675 names opposing the ordinance I feel that we have to listen to these voices as well as to the ones who are in favor no matter how emotional the issue. At this time either some more changes need to made to the ordinance or it needs to be set aside and the issue placed on a ballot.
BRAD: Undecided at this time.

All three council candidates have been active in Palmer city government, Palmer-area nonprofits, or both. What keeps bringing you back, even though public service and volunteerism can be demanding and, sometimes, thankless?
MIKE: I'm not so much coming back as rearranging my focus. For me, public service is more a lifestyle choice that manifests in a variety of ways. I've been fortunate enough to have been elected to positions. I've also volunteered and worked with nonprofits. My experience suggests that after about three to six years I need to shift focus. Sometimes I make that decision, sometimes voters do. What I'm most interested in seeing is where any skills I have accumulated might be put to good use. I've also learned that whatever I contribute goes into such a mix of others’ efforts that suggesting I am responsible overstates the situation. Bottom line is that we all play a role in making a community.
LINDA: One of the greatest things about Palmer is that dozens of its citizens genuinely and deeply care enough about Palmer to volunteer their time and efforts to continue to improve their community. I am proud to be counted amongst those who continue to do so.
BRAD: (See the answer to the following question) 

In 50 words or fewer, what philosophy do you live by (or plan to use) when making decisions at the council table?
MIKE: Learn from others. Ask questions. Withhold judgment. Trust the process. When in doubt, amend. Actions speak louder than words. Opinions are everywhere. Facts are like diamonds, hard to find but extremely valuable.
LINDA: I would like very much to be the voice of the citizens of Palmer drawing on my 25 years of ongoing involvement in the community at many levels. I am truly passionate about Palmer and believe with all my being that it is an excellent city to live and work in. I believe that an elected official must listen to the community and combine that information with common sense and experience to make the best choices possible for majority of the citizens.
BRAD: I have served the City for approximately 20 years. My motive has always been to increase the quality of life for the citizens of Palmer, and make this the best place in Alaska to live.  Foremost, government is to serve the citizens.  Further, I believe that we must be fiscally responsible and maintain an efficient, affordable form of government.  Those are the principals I believe in.  

The city council recently reviewed its new parks and open space plan, which recommends connecting trails to improve walkability and updating old playground equipment, among other suggestions. In a time of tight budgets, how important is it to spend city money on recreation improvements? How much would you spend and where?
MIKE: I believe Palmer must walk its talk as a walkable, bike-able city. We are very close to providing a connecting trails system and should pursue as a high priority being an active partner with non-profit groups in the soliciting of grant funds and careful allocation of city funds. The completion of the downtown railroad right of way project creating a park and trail system from the river in the north to the Alaska State Fair property would be at the top of my list.
LINDA: Parks, trails, open spaces and playgrounds are very important to the makeup of a community's quality of life factors. In particular, I would like to see connections made to all of them that lends itself to continuing the "walkability" factor as well as for bicycles since many of our citizens enjoy the current trails in Palmer. As for the budget process, we must first fund all of the necessary functions of the city, such as police and fire protection and public works and then make every effort to use any funds available to continue to update, maintain and improve the existing parks and trails. At this time I am unable to attach a dollar amount to that process. 
BRAD: The park and trails plan is not completed yet.  The city is currently reviewing the needs assessment portion of the plan.  This plan is a result of a grant we received from the Mat-Su Health Foundation for $50,000.  It will guide necessary maintenance and improvements to our existing parks and trail improvements. No money has been spent implementing the plan. I am willing to spend money on parks and trails if it makes fiscal sense at the time. I do believe however that park and trail improvements have spurred a renewed sense of community pride within the city.
Over the 14 years I have been on the city council my priorities have always been on infrastructure, police and fire, while maintaining an efficient and affordable government. I have always been an advocate for parks and trail improvments, which I feel have been greatly enhanced during my time in office. Revenue to the city is at historical highs, the city council must continue to monitor expenses so that City Council can continue to reinvest the citizen’s money in public improvements that increase the quality of life in Palmer.

Have a question for the candidates? Post it in the comments and we'll let the candidates know so they can answer. 

1 comment:

"Rudy" said...

Great work! Hopefully every one in Palmer will read this and get out and vote!