Merrill Sanford

Candidate Profile

Merrill Sanford


Merrill Sanford


Merrill Sanford

Age: 68

Family: Wife Pat, three children, five grandchildren

Occupation: Retired firefighter

Current community involvement: Mayor of Juneau since 2013

Previous government or other relevant experience: Juneau Assembly, Juneau Planning Commission, Juneau Rotary

Highest level of education: 12th grade

Quick Hits

Would you support a plastic bag ban? I don’t know.

Is climate change caused by people? I think very little.

Have you ever smoked or consumed pot? No.

How did you vote on marijuana legalization? No.

Do you support the city subsidizing two public pools? I have and I will into the future as far as I can see.

Do you support the city subsidizing Treadwell Ice Arena? Yes.

Do you support the city subsidizing Eaglecrest Ski Area? Yes.

Sales tax holiday? No.

How’d you vote on the minimum wage initiative? I don’t remember.

Who did you vote for in the governor’s race? Sean Parnell.

Would you support an ordinance banning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people? That isn’t us to do that. The city and borough is not responsible to do that.

What’s on your iTunes playlist? I don’t have time to listen to iTunes anymore.

Positions on Juneau Issues

Priorities & achievements

What do you want to achieve as mayor?

The immediate thing to do is to hire a new city manager within the next four months. We’ve already started that process. Kim (Kiefer), our current city manager, will be gone Jan. 1, and we need to get somebody on board who can take over the reins and develop the next two-year budget cycle with us.

Special role of the mayor

What do you hope to do as mayor that you wouldn’t as a regular assembly member?

Hopefully, we can bring the assembly together a little bit more. And together, can form a team to better things within our own community here, of Juneau.

State budget crisis

With about 6,000 state employees in Juneau, our economy is closely tied to the expansion and contraction of state government. How should the city prepare for the effects of the state’s budget crisis?

We have a (modeling software) that we purchased (recently). Our budget director, Bob Bartholomew, has been using that model and looking up different scenarios: if we lost 100 (state employees) or 200, (we can look at what we) would do to our revenue generation as far as sales tax and property taxes go, which are the two biggest revenue collectors within our community.

So we’re looking at that model and trying to determine, and trying to read ahead a little bit. It just depends on what the State of Alaska has to do. So we have to wait to get a firm feeling from them, and what type of taxes they may raise on us, and things like that all affect our budget internally.

Dollar-wise, we could be affected with the revenue sharing that we may lose, up to $700,000. So those types of things really could hit our budget, very hard.

Sales tax

Should Juneau’s sales tax exempt food and other necessities?

I don’t know. I’d have to look at each one of those options individually and see what the effect is and then what it will do to us and how we balance the budget after we do something like that.

Police body cameras

The Juneau Police Department is testing body cameras for officers. What’s your position on police body cameras?

If their senior leadership team and staff say that it’s required and needed and is a good technology thing, then I would agree with that. That’s why we hire a chief of police and the higher up (administrators) of the police department to make those hard calls and bring us into the 21st century.


What’s your perception of the drug problem in Juneau? How should the assembly address it?

Recently, there seems to have been a little bit of an uptick in heroin and some of the stronger drugs lately. I don’t know exactly why yet, but there’s been a few more people that have accidentally overdosed and have passed away because of it. And we need to look at it, keep track of it, see what’s going on, for sure.


Are you receptive or resistant to marijuana businesses in Juneau?

I will follow the mandate that the people have given us. I personally don’t think that it’s a good idea to do that, only because of the risk factor that increases by having something like alcohol or something like marijuana legal. There’s going to be cause and effect here with every type of drug or manipulation that we put on the market. There’s going to be a result and some of it’s going to be OK, and some of it’s going to be not so OK. So we’ll have to figure out how we’re going to pay for some of the not so good ramifications of it, and how we move forward. But the people have spoken and it will be done.

What specific zoning restrictions, if any, should the city implement with regard to marijuana businesses?

I, again, have to look at all the options. It’s not fair to just answer that, you know, out and out without knowing all the different options that there are. And so I would wait, and in fact, I think in just the last night or two, the planning commission had put forward a recommendation to have, I think, sales in the waterfront zoning district. So we’ll see what they produce and our own marijuana committee produces for us and then I’ll try to evaluate all of those options back and forth in my own mind.

City responsibilities

What is the city doing that it shouldn’t?

I don’t think that there’s anything that we shouldn’t be doing. There are things that we do that are priorities as far as the charter goes and everything, police and fire, some water, public health and safety. Those are issues that are required of us to do something about to a certain level. And I think that’s a good place to go to when we get budget shortfalls. And to look at what we’re required to do, and what we’re doing as extra things and then evaluate those and see if we can keep the extra things that we’re doing or not.

What is the city not doing that it should?

We do a whole lot, and I don’t know off the top of my head anything that we’re not doing. I mean there’s a lot of great ideas out there right now for us to do if we had the dollars to do them. Increasing the bus routes would be a great thing to do and I would be completely in favor of doing that. But the bus routes we have recommended [changing] increases the dollar amount that we would have to put forward to the bus system by over $1 million. If we did a shuttle bus system downtown, that would increase the system’s dollar intake by a couple million dollars.

So everything comes at a cost and a price to pay and we have to know exactly what that is up front and then balance that with what we’re doing right now, and balance it with what we want to do into the future.

Blighted properties

With blighted private properties in Juneau, do you prefer a laissez­-faire approach, like with the Skinner Building, or something more aggressive that risks the taxpayers’ money, like with the Gastineau Apartments?

I think that’s a balancing act, too. The people, the individual property owner, should take care of their own properties. And when they become burnt out hulks, they should be taking care of that property. If the property owner for some reason goes down a different route or can’t take care of it, then I think that we need to step up to the plate and figure out ways, and there’s a lot of different ways, to handle that situation.

With the Gastineau Apartments, we’re at the point of saying “Enough is enough. You’re not going to take care of it, so we’re going to come in and demolish the building and put a lien on the property to recover our dollars that we have to spend on it.” We wish the private sector would do it all by themselves, the majority of us on the assembly.


With regard to housing, what do you think about the city’s zoning and building codes?

We just finished up some zoning changes with the land use code that we just remodeled here, and there’s a couple more that are coming forward with land use issues of driveways and access to individual lots that we are working on right now at the planning commission level — making it easier for developers, and less costly, also, for developers to try to either add one or two lots or four or 12 lots.

So it’s an important part of … making it better for people, private citizens to be able to build and private developers to be able to build.

Local contributions to education

The Alaska Supreme Court is deliberating on Ketchikan’s lawsuit that claims that requiring local governments contribute to public schools is unconstitutional. What’s your take on the case?

It costs so much to run our educational systems in this state, whether the State of Alaska pays for it, or we the people in the individual municipalities pay for it, it’s going to have to be done. And we need a good educational system for our young people to grow up in and become educated and be able to go out and face the world, and be able to be productive citizens. So, we’re gonna pay one way or the other when it gets back to us. It’s nice to be able to have the State of Alaska to cover the majority of it, through our own property tax and stuff.

But if it all gets dumped on the individual municipalities to do, the whole 100 percent of the cost? Boy, that’s gonna raise our property taxes and sales taxes and every other tax that we can think of to balance our budget, for sure, in my mind.

So I’m a little bit leery. I understand the point of trying to make sure that all the municipalities are somehow paying their fair share, and/or the State of Alaska is doing what they’re responsible to do. But if we just change the formula, which sounds like that’s what’s going to happen … it’s not going to change a thing. It’s gonna come out of our pockets in the end.

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