With a background that includes serving as mayor and law enforcement officer for the city of Soldotna, being pastor of a church and accumulating day-to-day lessons of life in general, Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor candidate Tom Bearup believes he has acquired “a lot of quality things over the years that will be attributes for a borough mayor.”
Bearup’s vision of being mayor includes developing a “team of quality people” that would complement the directors and managers already in place in the borough.
“Using the Homer community as a prime example, you have specific needs here that Soldotna and Kenai don’t have. Specific requirements as far as local government,” said Bearup. “That gives us an opportunity to have hands-on, someone working from here, talking with people, working with people so your voice is strong.”
A representative from the mayor’s office would be available on a weekly basis to identify local needs and maintain open lines of communication.
“We’ll have reps from my administration that have specific knowledge of the area, somebody that knows what’s going on, that has the ear of the people,” said Bearup. “I can’t be in every place, I can have people that are feeding me and not through bureaucracy, somebody that has contact with me and we can address issues directly.”
On a recent visit to Homer, Bearup was made aware that property owners could not use cash or check to pay borough property taxes at the Homer annex. Payments must be made by mail, by credit card online or by taking them to the borough’s administration offices in Soldotna. As mayor, he would change that.
“It’s probably just putting something together, a software package, something, to be able to walk in there, do every bit of business you need without driving an hour and a half to Soldotna,” said Bearup.
Another change he would like to see made is to have the KPB assembly meet in Homer and Seward more than once a year.
“You’re not stepchildren. We are part of this whole thing that makes the borough work,” said Bearup, who prefers direct communication between the mayor’s office and borough residents rather than communicating through borough assembly members. “I think it’s important that you hear from me as your borough mayor and I hear from you.”
Government overreach is an area about which Bearup is concerned. As an example, he referred to the borough’s protection of anadromous streams that, for many, boiled down to a violation of personal property rights. Guarding the borough’s programs benefiting senior citizens and veterans also ranks high on Bearup’s list of concerns. Currently senior citizens receive a property tax exemption up to $300,000 of the assessed value of their primary residence.
“They’ve paid taxes all their lives. Some are on a fixed income and cannot afford much more. Every dollar counts,” said Bearup. “We look at it as something they deserve.”
Stopping flooding, such as that experienced in Anchor Point last fall, is something Bearup said he “wouldn’t stop until I found a solution for those people impacted. Why? Because they’re paying taxes. If we don’t help them, their property values go down. I don’t know how much of an impact there was in Anchor Point, but I can tell you this, as mayor, if I can’t do it, I’ll find someone that will and utilize every resource we have available.”
With regard to taxes in general, Bearup said, “The objective is not to ever raise taxes until there is a need for it.”
He opposed a 3 percent bed tax to help fund tourism marketing currently being done by the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. KPB Mayor Mike Navarre vetoed it before the borough assembly voted on putting the tax before borough voters.
“I have been adamantly against the bed tax,” said Bearup. “If there’s a need, justify that need. Give me a business plan and show where you’ll spend the dollars.”
That same level of fiscal accountability applies to the office of borough mayor.
“I need to be accountable for where we’re spending your money, to take the direction of the assembly and get the best return on the investment that you’re making in your government back to the community,” he said.
With hearing the voice of borough residents his number one priority and financial accountability his second, Bearup said his third is to “just break down any barriers that might be there. Make (the mayor’s office) business friendly, more about customer service and meeting the needs of the people.”
Making it clear he is not a “professional politician,” Bearup said, “I don’t have any hidden agenda of wanting to be governor or anything else. I want to be mayor. I want to represent the people here. I want to do the best that I can in doing that.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.