2019 Elections: Council Seat F Candidate Mark Johnson
Nome Nugget: What is your motivation to run for Nome Common Council again?
Mark Johnson: I believe that I can still contribute to the community and fellow City Council members in assisting to make decisions that benefit the residents of Nome and strive to provide a welcoming and safe environment to our business/recreational visitors to Nome and especially to our region’s residents who greatly support Nome as the regional base for health, business, and other services.
Nome Nugget: What are the biggest challenges facing Nome today and how do you propose as councilmember to address them?
Mark Johnson: We have a continued challenge with the budget to make sure the City is offering the services that are mandatory to provide and services that make Nome a good place to live. We have to continue to work with City Management to ensure that the City operations are operated efficiently, so that the City does not continue to raise property and sales taxes for local residents.
We have a struggling business economy and the City must do what we can to encourage and support our current business owners who employ much of our workforce and also attract new businesses to invest in providing goods and services in Nome. The City has limited means in ways to gain revenues to operate the needed and desired services, with our main revenue source focused on taxes. We need to continue to look for additional revenue sources and be proactive in planning for City budgets with tax structures that encourage residents to live in Nome and also provide a means for local businesses to be able to compete with outside businesses.
We have a great opportunity to bolster our existing economy with the climate change in the arctic with increased passenger, freight and scientific researchers. We should continue to seek to be part of the changing world and changing development, as we have been doing by working to expand the Port to provide a means for vessels to use Nome as a both a destination and a stopover to take on goods and services. We should also continue to support our existing fishing and mining fleets, as well as tourism, that provide a large seasonal boost to our local jobs and economy. I believe it has been good for the City of Nome to be proactive in participating in worldwide conversations regarding the arctic because as we benefit from this development, we must also do so while protecting the environment and our local and region’s subsistence way of life. With climate change and the effect on the arctic, the worldwide science community is grasping to study these great changes and the Coast Guard/Military are looking to expand their services to cover the Arctic more. We need to continue to offer local knowledge to these scientific researchers, the Coast Guard and Military for the benefit of Nome and our region and offering an expanded Port (not only with an expanded facility, but also expanded local services offered). In doing so, it will assist to expand our City tax base to help decrease the burden of higher taxes off of our year-round residents and businesses. There are other huge challenges facing Nome that I will address in the other questions provided.
Nome Nugget: What are you budget priorities?
Mark Johnson: The City’s budget has increased primarily in three areas from past historic budgets. The three major areas of increase have been increased funding for the School, Police, and Public Works. This increase in budget is primarily being covered by increased property taxes and using funds from City savings accounts from year’s past when the City had budget surpluses and from sales of City properties. I believe the City Council should really focus and spend additional time on these three larger areas of the budget in helping to set policies and budgets. I believe the City Council should be more proactive in setting and adhering to current policy to set budgets that are not just reactive to the current City, School, and State climates, but for planning for the effect on the community for the future. Regarding the School budget, the City of Nome and City Council has quality education as a top priority for our community. Nome Schools has a long history of providing a good safe quality education and school experience. The School administration and School Board set the budget that operates the schools, with input and funding from the City Council. The main funding source for Nome Schools is from the State of Alaska. The City of Nome has been reactionary to the State of Alaska’s politics and school funding by substantially increasing the City’s annual contribution to Nome’s schools in the past few years. The State of Alaska contribution is largely determined by the number of students served by Nome Public Schools. The City’s larger budget contribution (resulting in higher property taxes) is partly due to a diminishing school student population, which lowers the State’s contribution. A big question that we should continue to ask is how do we keep students in Nome from a desire to receive education from outside of town and what can we offer the students in Nome for a better education and school experience (sports, arts, vocational training, in-school and extracurricular activities)? And, how can we as a City Council set policies/tax structure, provide a safe living environment and provide recreational services to encourage families to stay and move to Nome to increase the student population?
Regarding the Public Works budget, we need to work with City Management and assist in setting policies that will both support our local Public Works department and provide the necessary services to the community, especially road maintenance and snow removal. With climate change has come increased snow over the past few years that has presented challenges, both in snow removal and road maintenance. Our permafrost is melting also, causing additional strain on the community and maintenance issues. I believe we need to meet these challenges with community involvement and use of our local knowledge and contractor resources to compliment the City providing the service. Regarding the third largest budget item, the increased Police budget, I will further address in subsequent questions.
Nome Nugget: As councilman, what meaningful steps should be taken to address public inebriation and homelessness?
Mark Johnson: As far as homelessness, Nome is experiencing the same homelessness problem that much of Alaska and the rest of the nation is experiencing. There is no easy answer to why this is so prevalent now nationwide compared to times past. Solutions to this dilemma have been tried in Nome with some measures working. I would advocate that the City continue to work with the social service agencies to assist in finding solutions – more training available, more jobs, more housing, more reaching out to the homeless population to see what solutions that will assist them in fighting homelessness. The City Council has worked on public inebriation issues for years without much success in solutions. It would seem to me that it has to again be a joint effort between the City Council working on policies, liquor businesses and social service agencies. Years ago there was a detox and rehabilitation center here in Nome. These local services are much needed again. Having an office directly across the street from the current day shelter, I have daily positive interaction with the folks who frequent the day shelter. One thing that is really disturbing is that the people frequenting the day shelter has changed to include more young people. Nome has excellent vocational facilities under-utilized at Nome-Beltz. We should look at partnering with other organizations to provide vocational training opportunities for local and regional young men and women that may help provide the tools necessary for employment. This would be a proactive positive solution to assist with our homelessness and inebriation issues.
Nome Nugget: Please outline steps to be taken to restore citizens’ trust in the Nome Police Department and describe what a functional NPD would look like in your opinion.
Mark Johnson: The City Council has substantially increased the Nome Police Department’s budget over the past year in efforts to better staff the Police Department. I believe that the Nome Police Department must make a better effort to be part of the community while they are on the job. Proactive measures, especially downtown, with not only taking care of violations, but being physically present in the community along Front Street, behind the bars, not only as enforcement, but as true Community officers that work with the community and the businesses downtown towards a better safe environment. I think the City made a mistake with building the Public Safety Building on the bypass road to completely house the whole Police Department. The Police Department (or at least the chief down to the patrol officers) should be located downtown and accessible. The old Library on Front Street would have been a great location for our local Police Department to operate out of. There are other locations downtown that would be good to house the Police Department in a community revitalization project. We need at least two officers to be on each shift to adequately address the needs of the community. Being small town Community Officers, responding and appropriately dealing with calls, being part of Community events and school events on a regular basis each and every month, putting sexual assault and violence crimes as a top priority and following up with each case, better communication with victims regarding their cases, these are all things that will help to restore the trust in our local police force. In our small town, the community must know and respect the police force and the police force must know and respect the community to create trust.
Nome Nugget: What strategies do you propose to encourage better communication between the city and the public pertaining to announcing open commission seats, public meetings and the chance for the public to interact with visiting state and federal dignitaries, for example.
Mark Johnson: I propose that the City of Nome continue to communicate via social media, including Nome Announce and the City Facebook page, but more importantly, I believe the City should have a weekly large section in our local newspaper notifying the community of all the things mentioned in your question. We are blessed to have Alaska’s Oldest Newspaper in our town that is not run by a large corporation in Anchorage or Outside. We should take advantage of the opportunity to keep our community better informed.