- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

March 10, 2014

Ketchikan Daily News: Judicial selection for Alaska

Alaskans should participate in the judicial selection process.

Not enough do.

That is a concern.

The process is largely conducted by the Alaska Judicial Council, which consists of three non-attorney Alaskans and three Alaska attorneys. The state Supreme Court’s chief justice participates as chair, and votes rarely, only to break a tie.

Senate Joint Resolution 21 seeks to change the makeup of the Council, largely for two reasons: Worries about attorney dominance on the Council, and public confusion about Council work.

Confusion could be addressed if the public participated more in the process than it currently does. The Council holds public comment periods for each judicial vacancy. The public can comment at the Council meeting in the community with the vacancy or in writing; little of either is provided to the Council, especially when considering the number of Alaskans.

The Council, as a public entity, also is available to answer questions concerning its processes.

Concerning worries about attorneys dominating the Council, that insinuates that the non-attorney members are being intimidated against voting for the best candidates. That’s simply untrue.

In most cases, it’s a mix of attorney and non-attorney votes that narrow the list of applicants for a judicial vacancy to the most qualified. That list is forwarded to the governor for the final selection.

To add additional non-attorney seats to the Council would politicize the Council, unbalancing the makeup and the power, which isn’t an environment suitable to selecting the most qualified judges. The constitution’s authors did as much as possible to eliminate politics from the process.

The Council works well as it is. It’s balanced, and the public has every opportunity to participate.

Alaskans simply should do that; that’s how we can influence the Council toward the most qualified judicial candidates.

Work with the Council; leave its makeup alone.

__

March 6, 2014

Juneau Empire: Rising water rates

Trying to unclog a stuck toilet is one of the most disgusting and horrifying things a homeowner can face.

Imagine dealing with 8,700 of them.

That’s what the City and Borough of Juneau is trying to avoid. Every 10 years, the CBJ revises its water and sewer rates. It’s an unpleasant experience for homeowners - rates go up, not down.

This time around, the experience may be more unpleasant than it was the last time around. A study commissioned by the CBJ and released in February suggests nine years of rate increases will be needed to balance the books of the CBJ’s water and sewer funds.

That isn’t a fun idea, but without those increases, a stuck toilet might become an optimistic analogy for the CBJ’s water and sewer network.

Juneau is served by a $275 million labyrinth of pipes and plants that give us fresh water and haul away dirty water. Much of that network was built in the 1980s and 1990s, after the federal government demanded Juneau stop dumping raw sewage into Gastineau Channel.

While that system has served Juneau well, it has a limited lifespan. Estimates published by CBJ public works indicate the system will need at least $73 million in work over the next decade.

Some of that cost will be paid by cruise ships and the city’s sales tax, but most will be shouldered by homeowners and business owners who receive water and sewer bills.

The study released last month calls for water rates 83 percent higher in 2023 than they are today. The increase would be spread over intervening years, but that doesn’t change the result: A homeowner with an unmetered residential bill of $26.40 per month today would pay $48.44 per month in 2023.

If that boils your blood, simmer. In 1980, the same residential customer paid $19 per month for water.

If the CBJ had raised rates to simply keep pace with inflation, homeowners would be paying almost $54 per month today. Instead, they pay less than half that.

The fact is, water and sewer service is much cheaper today than it was in 1980. In fact, compared with the rates homeowners pay in other Southeast communities, Juneau’s water and sewer service is a bargain.

Ketchikan homeowners pay almost $43 per month for water. In Sitka, they pay $30.80 per month.

We don’t like that water rates are going up, but the alternative stinks.

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