By Carey Restino
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre knew the words centralization and consolidation weren’t going to sit comfortably when talking to many from the southern Kenai Peninsula, but he said them anyway.
Navarre spoke at the Homer City Council meeting Monday, bringing the message that dwindling budgets may necessitate the consolidation of some Kenai Peninsula Borough services — primarily emergency services and health care.
“I wanted to let you know about a couple things we are considering that sometimes caused consternation because they are deviations from the status quo,” Navarre said.
Navarre said that when he first took over as mayor he immediately asked why there are three separate fire and emergency service delivery agencies — the Anchor Point Volunteer Fire Department, the Homer Volunteer Fire Department and the more recently formed Kachemak Emergency Services — operating on the southern peninsula.
“I asked, ‘Can we get better cooperation and communication and working relationships between the different entities?’” Navarre said.
In other areas of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, there is a single service provider for medic and fire response — Central Emergency Services — but the mayor acknowledged that the city of Homer gets to make its own decisions about letting the Kenai Peninsula Borough take over its emergency service providing.
“Homer controls its own destiny,” he said. “All we can do is put the information together, present it to the city, and Homer gets to decide this. We can’t force Homer to do anything.”
Navarre said he understood that changing to a centralized emergency services provider would mean a big change for those individuals who have positions at local fire departments. But, he said, with the state’s fiscal situation where it is, there will be a trickle-down effect that will have some big impacts on local municipalities and boroughs.
Another area Navarre said he will be examining closely is the borough’s hospitals. He created a Health Care Task Force to examine the possible ways health care on the Kenai Peninsula could be improved.
“Health care in the way it’s delivered now is simply and undeniably unsustainable,” Navarre said. “I think we can build a better model.”
When questioned by Homer City Councilman Beauregard Burgess for more details about what he sees happening with services provided by South Peninsula Hospital and other hospitals on the Kenai Peninsula, he said he would like to see consolidated purchasing and human resources departments, for example, and try to stem the outmigration of services and patients that will undermine profits at small hospitals like Homer’s South Peninsula Hospital. He said medical tourism — traveling to places like Thailand to receive care — will further challenge smaller facility profits, he said.
“If we can, as residents of the borough, build a shared vision about where we want to be five years from now, 10 years from now, we can start that transition process of how to get there,” he said.
Navarre noted that he has also looked into the cost savings of having a centralized dispatch office on the Kenai Peninsula, and said there wasn’t a great deal of savings in eliminating satellite dispatch services such as those provided by the Homer Police Department. The main savings, he said, would be in equipment, which now has to be replaced every few years at several locations, costing thousands. Councilman Bryan Zak noted that perhaps if the borough did move to a centralized dispatch center, it could be held in Homer.
Homer City Mayor Beth Wythe seconded that sentiment.
“All consolidation does not have to happen in the central peninsula,” she said. “If I convalesce, I want it to be in the hospital with the view.”