Yakutat’s New Bi-Monthly Newspaper

Our batch of Driftwood Dispatch newspapers were delivered tonight and I remembered that I haven’t plugged the new paper yet…  So,  here it is!

DriftwoodDispatch

A local school teacher was looking to publish a newspaper.  Then with budget cuts,  she found herself with more time on her hands than she planned,  so she actually did publish a newspaper!  Issue #5 officially goes on sale tomorrow at three local locations (Fat Grandma’s,  the AC Store and the Fly Shop),  but you can subscribe and have future issues delivered to your mail box.  Go to http://www.driftwooddispatch.com/ and sign up for home delivery.

Six action-packed pages of local Yakutat information,  news and gossip.  And a few ads…  If you were one of the poor souls who subscribed to the old Monti Bay Times that Bill Fletcher produced…  the new Driftwood Dispatch actually has articles!!!  My favorite feature is the “Yakutat History” article that appears in nearly every issue.

The best thing about the Driftwood Dispatch is that I have absolutely nothing to do with it!  I did write an editorial for the last issue,  but you don’t have to read a single word that I typed in any of the other issues.  I consider that an added bonus!  50 cents an issue,  twice a month.

Just in case you were wondering…  The title of a newspaper should be italicized,  whereas the title of an article in a newspaper should appear between quotation marks.  Thus – “Yakutat History” is my favorite feature in the Driftwood Dispatch.  Underlining was used in place of italics,  because in the past no one had a typewriter with italic keys.  Underlining titles is only a replacement for when you don’t have the ability to italicize.

Yes,  I had to ask my kids…  Damn HomeSchoolers!

DDIssue5

*****  Updated  *****

OK,  I panicked when I realized “Bimonthly” means once every two months (like my biennial flight review)…  So I looked it up in the dictionary and it actually means BOTH every other month AND twice a month.  So my title for this post was right – and wrong.  Perfect!  “Semimonthly” is technically more accurate,  but isn’t a word I have ever used in my life.  I think I’ll stick with the useless “bimonthly” that means two totally different things.  Editing sucks.

Official Winners

*****  UPDATE  *****
We now have the official numbers for you…  Please click the link to download the PDF for the official election results:

2014 Signed Canvass Committee Report in PDF
October 22nd:
I don’t have the total count numbers,  but these are the official winners…

Mayor – Cindy Bremner

Assembly – Ralph WolfeCharlie Russell and Paul Harding (with absentee ballots counted,  Paul overtook Daryl James by just three votes)

School Board – Gloria Wolfe and Sean Langhelm

Proposition 1 – Yes

There were a variety of write-in candidates with between 1 and 10 votes,  but none to have any impact on the outcome (Mickey Mouse and one local resident’s dog received votes).  Although I like seeing the write-ins listed in the final,  the Election Board did not record the names from the initial count.  Last year,  there were two candidates with significant write-in success,  but this year’s election lacked a serious write-in effort.

Preliminary Election Results

One thing seems to be sure from Yakutat’s local election yesterday – Yakutat Loves their taxes.  Proposition 1 won with 119 votes yes to 57 no.  The “unofficial” election results are in and at least one assembly seat remains too close to call,  with only a single vote separating the #3 and #4 vote getters.

Later tonight,  the Canvass Committee (consisting of several current Assembly members) will meet to open and count the absentee ballots and the election will be certified at the next regular Assembly Meeting on November 6th.  21 absentee and 4 question ballots remain to be counted.  Here are the preliminary vote counts from the in-person vote yesterday:

Mayor:
Cindy Bremner – 128                    David Stone – 46

Assembly:
Ralph Wolfe – 125         Charlie Russell – 99       Daryl James (incumbent) – 77
Paul Harding – 76         Reginald Krkovich – 65

School Board:
Gloria Wolfe – 158         Sean Langhelm – 84

Proposition 1:
Yes – 119                          No – 57

There were 250 ballots printed,  206 issued,  181 regular ballots cast,  4 questioned ballots,  21 absentee ballots received,  with 44 ballots not used.  With 21 absentee ballots to be counted tonight and only 12 votes separating the 3rd and 5th place candidates,  any of the three bottom Assembly candidates could receive enough votes to take the third seat.

Just the Counting Remains…

PA210038

Polls have closed here in the biggest little city in the US.  Tomorrow (Wednesday) at 515pm,  the Canvass Committee will meet at the Borough offices to count ballots.  The public is WELCOME to observe the counting,  however there are a few rules that need to be followed.  Sent to me by our City Clerk:

You may observe the counting of the ballots, however:

1.            You may NOT talk to the Election Officials
2.            You may NOT talk to each other in audience
3.            You may NOT come and go from the building
4.            You may NOT receive phone calls or make calls
5.            You may NOT approach the table where the Election Official are working

The Election Chair will strictly enforce these rules
Your cooperation is appreciated.

So,  if anyone would like to drop by and observe,  it is your right (and responsibility) to make sure the integrity of the vote is maintained.  Don’t forget in two weeks,  we have our national election (anyone with an e-mail account, TV or radio can’t avoid being “reminded”…).  Make sure your vote counts and is counted.  You have the right to observe your own polling places and ballot integrity.

By this time tomorrow,  we’ll have the official results to post.  And,  as a bonus,  I’ll leave you with this jewel of a quote from a resident of Austin,  Texas,  who has no idea why her taxes are so high…

“I’m at the breaking point,” said Gretchen Gardner, an Austin artist who bought a 1930s bungalow in the Bouldin neighborhood just south of downtown in 1991 and has watched her property tax bill soar to $8,500 this year.

“It’s not because I don’t like paying taxes,” said Gardner, who attended both meetings. “I have voted for every park, every library, all the school improvements, for light rail, for anything that will make this city better. But now I can’t afford to live here anymore. I’ll protest my appraisal notice, but that’s not enough. Someone needs to step in and address the big picture.”

Local Yakutat Election – VOTE!

Tomorrow (Tuesday October 21st) is our local election.  We have 5 people running for the three Assembly slots and two people running for the two open school board seats.

In addition,  we have Proposition 1 on the ballot,  which would make our temporary 1% increase of the sales tax permanent.  Proposition 1 is an “advisory” vote and the decision ultimately falls to the Assembly anyway,  but the will of the people on this issue will weigh somewhat heavy in the decisions the Assembly and City management make in the coming year.

Make your voice heard.  A vote for the tax increase carries consequences.  A vote against also carries consequences.  How do you see Yakutat going into the future?  This is a turning point in our community.

Get off your duff and vote tomorrow.

Moose Calling

We were out at the cabin hoping for a moose last weekend,  but had to come back Sunday.  Tanis was out all Saturday night playing with his moose call,  but there wasn’t any sign of a moose out there.  All my flying back and forth in our last weeks of fishing,  I didn’t see anything between the Dangerous and the New Italio.  Plus,  there were hunters crawling all over the place staying at Ryman’s camp on the New Italio last week.

A cow wanders down the Middle Italio in mid-summer

A cow wanders down the Middle Italio in mid-summer

So we left Sunday at about 2pm as the big tide started to surge in across the runway.  Monday,  I took the city manager on a scenic flight to Cape Fairweather to see the boundary of the Yakutat Borough.  We briefly stopped at the cabin on our way by and…  the morning after we terminated our hunting trip,  there are fresh moose tracks wandering all over the place.  One set of tracks was decidedly smaller than the other,  so maybe a small cow and bull…  or cow and calf…

I’m too busy this week to head back out there.  We’ll have people at both the Forest Service Cabin and Rymans this week hunting,  so I’m sure if that was a small bull,  he’ll be in someone else’s freezer long before I get a chance to get Tanis back out for his first moose.  Oh well.  That’s the way it goes.

The moose tend to stay upland out there until we get a dusting of snow.  The snow will push them down toward the beach,  where they spend the winter browsing along the edge of the forest.  The winter winds help to keep the snows blown out and they have an easier time of it moving along the beach.

We haven’t had very many bulls along the Italio for the past few years.  The one I took two years ago was the ONLY one taken out there that year.  We chased two around last fall and our party took one of them.  We still have some of him in the freezer,  so it isn’t vital we get one this time.  It is such good meat though.

It only took them 4 days to exceed the 25 bull limit on the west side of the Dangerous to close the season there (at 29).  East side of the Dangerous remains open through till we hit 55 bulls total for the district,  or November 15th.  Which ever comes first.

I’m not much of a hunter,  but I do love to eat.

Yakutat’s Proposition 1

I sent the following “letter to the editor” to our new Driftwood Dispatch newspaper – published twice a month:

Proposition 1 comes before the voters at our local October 21st election.  As a member of the Assembly,  I cannot lobby either for or against the Proposition,  but I wanted to fill you in on why we have the Proposition in the first place…

Our community is struggling. Yakutat is one of only three Census Districts in Alaska to have a declining population between 2010 and 2013.  Our population has been on a downward trend for decades.  (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/02/02282.html)
Although this is an incredible place to live,  many – especially young families – are finding it harder and harder to remain here.  The cost of living is prohibitively high and well-paying jobs are dwindling.  Although Yakutat has done an amazing job of acquiring grants through the years,  helping to sustain our community,  those grant sources are drying up.

If you take the Borough’s General Fund budget as passed by the assembly and divide that by the number of residents, we are spending over $4,000 per human being on local governmental services – NOT INCLUDING any of the Enterprise Funds like power and water utilities,  dock services,  or the school.  For my small family of four,  that equates to nearly $17,000 just for local General Fund-financed services.  General Fund services are: Administration (the city office and staff),  Public Works (but not including water and sewer,  or Yakutat Power),  Landfill*,  Regular Road Maintenance,  Snow Removal,  Parks and Recreation,  Planning and Zoning (not including the grant projects),  Police, Fire, EMS and Community Services**.

The average per capita household income for Yakutat is just under $40,000, yet we spend $17,000 per my household of four for local government expenses.  Add water/sewer/power to this and Yakutat’s per capita expenses reach $9,000 per living human and $36,000 for my family.  What money is left to pay our personal bills,  like housing,  food and clothing?

In other words, Yakutat’s municipal expenses are unsustainable.  The math just doesn’t work.  We are seeing a declining population in large part because it is so expensive to live here,  which causes more people to move out,  thus fewer people now share the expense of providing services,  which drives more people out and even fewer people share the expenses…  A death spiral ensues.

Over the past year, the Borough Assembly has been having a VERY heated debate about the future of Yakutat.  It comes down to whether we will even have a future.  Are we already in the death spiral,  or can we still pull ourselves back in time?  I honestly don’t know.  All we can do is look at where we are and make the best decisions we can for our families and for our future.  We have hard choices before us.  Painful choices have to be made.  NOT making the difficult decisions IS making the decision to watch Yakutat collapse.

Well, isn’t this turning out to be a happy-sunny little letter?  That’s the set-up,  so you know really where we are along our shared road to the future.  This has been a miserably difficult process to go through and we are still a long way from seeing any positive results.  I’m still optimistic though.  No,  really!

I have been pushing for some dramatic cuts to expenses. These cuts wouldn’t make living in Yakutat less expensive in the short-term,  but would free up some money to save some of our crumbling infrastructure.  Maintenance on our utility distribution system has been deferred to the point that we may lose our ability to provide those services.  We must find that money somewhere.  It can either come from raising revenue (tax increases that make living here even more expensive),  or by cutting expenses elsewhere in the government.  Cutting expenses translates primarily to reducing the number of people who provide our city services – throwing our friends,  neighbors,  sisters,  brothers,  aunts and uncles out of work.  Those are really the only two significant choices we have and neither of them are all that great.  Serving on the Assembly is just a hoot,  isn’t it?

In our 2015 budget, the Assembly took steps to end the “hiding” of expenses in other departments.  Specifically,  the General Fund had been bailing out the Water/Sewer utility with sales tax and property tax revenue instead of having the actual utility user pay their expense.  But…  we also reduced the property tax mil rate to compensate for the increase in utility rates.  In other words,  no increase in revenue by double taxing residents.  Increase one,  decrease the other and stop hiding the cost of the utility services in the General Fund.  Not everyone is happy about the rate increase,  but this was the most logical and fair way to get Water/Sewer out of the red without making it more expensive to live here.

Sales tax increases have been a little more problematic in the past. When I took my place on the Assembly,  I was told that the Assembly could only increase the sales tax for one year at a time without requiring a public vote.  The prior Assembly increased the sales tax to 5% for one year to fund the increased cost of operating the dump in compliance with DEC and EPA requirements*.  As much as I loved the old “Yakutat Drive-In”,  we cannot go back to the open bear feeding pit without facing extreme fines.  The rate increase expired June 30th and the Assembly was asked to renew it for another year.  I objected,  if doing repeated single-year Ordinances was a way to avoid the public vote.

Then, our city attorney advised us that the Assembly can raise the sales tax on their own in conflict with what we had been told by the Manager.  We were also told that the public was allowed a vote for the 3% to 4% increase to fund $125,000 in sales tax revenue earmarked for the clinic**.  Some on the Assembly insisted that we have the public vote on the sales tax anyway,  as a way for the public to be directly involved in how they want us to proceed.  That is why we have this Proposition 1 on the October ballot.

To me, this is an opportunity for the people of Yakutat to help the Assembly solve the problems I outlined earlier – do we have draconian cuts in departments across the board to enable us to fund the services we need,  or do we raise the cost of living through a permanent sales tax increase?  Both options have consequences.

* Landfill operating budget for fiscal year 2015 is $169,312.00

** Community Services budget for fiscal year 2015 is $151,000.00 with $125,000 given to the Yakutat Community Health Center, $10,000 for Tourism Enhancement,  $12,000 for “Lights” and $4,000 for S.E. Nutrition