Category Archives: Kenai Peninsula Borough

Seeking help for Selo — Tiny Kachemak Bay community needs new school facility, but at what cost?

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

In a fiscal climate of cutbacks and reined-in spending, Gov. Walker’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017 does still include a big-ticket capital project on the Kenai Peninsula — $10.8 million for building a new school at Kachemak Selo.

The budget still has to go through the Legislature, but the fact that it’s even in the governor’s budget is good news for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and the tiny community at the head of Kachemak Bay, which struggles to educate the school’s just under 60 students in inadequate and deteriorating leased buildings. The project tops the statewide school construction needs list.

But when the school district’s capital projects priority list — with K-Selo at the top — came before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly last week, the project almost didn’t make its way on to the Legislature.

Assemblyman Brent Johnson said he had considerable heartburn about the estimated $16 million price tag for the new school and the fact that the state funding would only cover a little over $10 million of the cost. That would obligate the borough to come up with the rest. He proposed amending the school district’s capital projects wish list to remove the K-Selo project before sending it along to the Legislature.

“To build the school, it’s over $250,000 per student. And the bottom line is I just don’t think that either the state or the borough can afford to build the school at that price,” Johnson said.

Assembly President Blaine Gilman said that modifying the school district’s priority list would be unprecedented, but that he was not comfortable with the possibility of having to come up with the extra money.

“We don’t have it in our general fund, we don’t have it in the school district’s general fund. And so we’ll be in the situation, either we’ll reject the money from the state, not accept it, or we’ll have to put it out for a bond. And a bond issue will not pass for this school, in my opinion,” Gilman said.

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State budget cuts shouldn’t gut economy

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Given the state’s fiscal crisis in the wake of low oil prices, it’s time for local governments to tighten their belts, but not so tight, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre says, that it cuts off circulation.

“We have to make sure we have a plan. We don’t need to just look at where we’re at right now and overreact and panic,” Navarre said. “What we need to do is look at where we want to be five years from now and 10 from now, and put the tools in place and make the decisions now to help us get there.”

Navarre was one of the speakers at the annual Industry Outlook Forum held in Kenai last month. The borough is already feeling impacts of the state’s budget-cutting — capital funding from the state has declined from $15 million in fiscal year 2014 to $113,000 in fiscal year 2016 — and should expect more cuts to come.

Meanwhile, the borough has been tightening its spending, as well. Navarre said that, even though the peninsula’s population is increasing, the borough has seen a net loss of job positions since 1998, outside of education and public safety. He said that finances have been managed conservatively so that there is a fund balance in all borough budgets, including service areas. Additionally, the borough has the ability to raise its revenues, through tax increases, to compensate for state cuts, but Navarre said he doesn’t want to see things come to that.

“We’re already seeing a slowdown in the economy, and, so, it’s not really a good time to load taxes on anybody. Nobody likes to see tax increases,” he said.

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Borough mulls joining fire, hospital services — Efficiencies could result in cost savings

By Carey Restino

Homer Tribune

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.”

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food bank cansBy Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

In its meeting April 21 in Seward, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly again rang up the issue of expanding the borough’s sales tax on nonprepared foods. But this time, the matter was put back on the shelf.

Currently, the borough collects a 3 percent sales tax on nonprepared foods for three months of the year — the tourism season of June, July and August. The rest of the year, the borough doesn’t levy a sales tax on groceries, though the borough’s 3 percent tax is assessed on the sales of other goods and services. Borough sales tax revenue throughout the year is used to fund district schools.

Kenai and Seward, the home-rule cities in the borough, can set their own taxes, and choose to levy a sales tax on groceries year-round. In 2008, the borough assembly passed an ordinance to allow general-law cities — Soldotna, Homer and Seldovia — to do the same.

So, in July, you’d pay 6 percent sales tax on a can of beans in Kenai or Soldotna, or just the borough’s 3 percent sales tax if shopping in Kasilof or Nikiski. In December, you’d pay 3 percent sales tax on that can of beans in Kenai or Soldotna, and no sales tax in the unincorporated areas of the borough.

Discussion has come up in the assembly last year to do away with the seasonal tax exemption and charge the borough sales tax on groceries year-round. That discussion culminated in a resolution that the assembly passed at its meeting April 7, to ask voters whether the borough should split the length of time in which the borough taxes groceries to six months and lower the exemption period to six months. The issue was to go to voters in the October municipal election.

But after the resolution passed, Kelly Wolf, who represents the Kalifornsky area, made a motion to reconsider the resolution, not wanting to put the question to voters after all because he didn’t want to open the chance that the exemption could be reduced from nine months to six months.

“We have families that are struggling to put food on the table for their families. So as I ask for reconsideration for this ordinance, I’d like to do it on behalf that this is the right thing to do,” Wolf said. “As a representative of the people, I’ve heard them, and I am listening.”

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Climate of change — Municipal leaders advise local action on climate change adaptation plan

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Vice Mayor Brian Gabriel, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson, Seward Councilwoman Rissie Casagranda and Homer Mayor Beth Wythe (not pictured), participate in a panel discussion at the close of the Kenai Change workshop on Saturday at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus.

Photo by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Vice Mayor Brian Gabriel, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson, Seward Councilwoman Rissie Casagranda and Homer Mayor Beth Wythe (not pictured), participate in a panel discussion at the close of the Kenai Change workshop on Saturday at Kenai Peninsula College’s Kenai River Campus.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Even after a full-day conference on the local effects of climate change, participants weren’t ready to let the topic drop.

Throughout the day, speakers at the Kenai Change conference Saturday, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Kenai Peninsula College, presented data and observation of the various ways the continuing warming, drying trend is impacting the Kenai Peninsula — increased risk of wildfires, raising stream temperatures, accelerated erosion from increased storm events, reduced winter snowpack and lower summer water volumes, to name just a few.

Accompanying the talks documenting changes to the local ecosystem were discussions of ways to adapt to those changes, in order to mitigate some of the negative impacts that are developing.

But just like warming climate isn’t an isolated issue, implementing strategies to adapt to resultant changes in the ecosystem won’t be effective if only done on an individual basis. Conference attendees wanted to see a climate change adaption plan implemented boroughwide, with participation and coordination from all local municipalities.

To that end, the closing session of the workshop, held at KPC’s Kenai River Campus, was a panel discussion with representatives from the Kenai Peninsula Borough and cities of Kenai, Soldotna, Homer and Seward. Questions ranged from topics of public transportation to roundabouts, development in wetlands, the Chuitna Mine and others, but one question kept being asked, rephrased and re-asked — would the municipalities adopt a climate change adaptation plan, and what can people do to help make that happen?

The answers were candid as to the difficulties elected officials would face in taking that step, and the take-away message was as repeated as the question — it has to start from the ground up.

“One of the things that’s really, really difficult in the public policy arena is what I call the paradox of politics, and that is that you can’t lead and you can’t advocate for changes effectively unless you’re in office, and if you’re not careful about the way you go about it, you’re not going to be in office in order to try to provide the change or the leadership,” Navarre said. “… It speaks to the importance of forums like this and community discussions like this is because it really does need to come from the bottom up in order to encourage and support the efforts that people who are in office attempt to make or do make in order to try to effect some changes and to adapt and to provide for mitigation.”

Panelists detailed several challenges to enacting policies and procedures of the sort suggested at the workshop — such as limiting development on wetlands, incentivizing “green” energy projects, requiring government-purchased vehicles to be fuel efficient, or instituting a policy that all actions have a “climate change review” to gauge environment impact, similar to a financial review to estimate the costs of a project.

For one thing, elected officials have a duty to be financial stewards of their municipalities, and measures that make environmental sense might not always pencil out in dollars and sense.

“A lot of decisions that come from the municipal level, I’m sure the borough level, too, are economically driven. If there’s a cost savings or cost benefit it’s something that certainly perks up the ears of the policy makers who are going to make the decisions on that,” said Kenai Vice Mayor Brian Gabriel.

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Happy 50th KP you and me — Borough, college, school district celebrate golden anniversary

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner points toward the new Career and Technical Center and the residence hall at KPC while talking about how far the education institution has come in the past 50 years during a golden-anniversary celebration for KPC, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district held Thursday at the college.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Kenai Peninsula College Director Gary Turner points toward the new Career and Technical Center and the residence hall at KPC while talking about how far the education institution has come in the past 50 years during a golden-anniversary celebration for KPC, the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district held Thursday at the college.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

It’s been said that from humble beginnings, great things will grow, and these words appropriately describe the inception of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district, as well as Kenai Peninsula College — all of which celebrated their 50th anniversary last week during a barbecue at KPC.

It can be difficult to imagine how far these entities have come and how much the entire area has grown, especially since many current residents are more recent transplants to this area. The landscape was much different in 1964, when only around 12,000 people called the peninsula home, versus the roughly 58,000 living here in 2014.

“Fifty years ago it was a very rural community with only the main highway being paved and most of the other roads gravel. There were no stoplights, because there was a lot less traffic,” said borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

It was black gold that led to much of the growth of this area, he said.

“A big reason why we were finally approved for statehood was because of the Swanson River oil discovery,” Navarre said. “That was an indication, to Congress, that Alaska would have the financial resources to afford some of the costs of government. Of course, that’s what drove the initial growth of the Kenai Peninsula during the 1960s — oil development both on and offshore.”

It took a lot of people to work the oilfields, wellheads and processing centers.

“The population grew pretty fast during the mid to late ’60s and early ’70s, driven by the jobs associated with oil development, including the Swanson River Fields, platforms in Cook Inlet, Union Chemical (Collier/Agrium) fertilizer plant, Phillips LNG plant, Tesoro and related infrastructure (docks and service companies),” Navarre said. “Of course, economic growth spurred population growth and the need for housing developments, schools, airport expansion, the hospital, etc.”

Navarre remembered that when he was in junior high, students were managed in a split shift because the student population exceeded the space available at that time. This swelling of students led to many changes in the school district.

From roughly 2,600 students in a handful of classrooms in 1964, the school district has grown to 8,932 enrolled students in 44 schools covering 25,600 square miles, a land area roughly equivalent to the size of West Virginia.

“When you review the various bits of information that are available about what things were like for our schools 50 years ago, you can quickly discern the KPBSD was a much different district than it is today,” Superintendent Steve Atwater said.

“One of the more telling differences of then and now is that the budget for January until June of 1964 was only $23,000,” he said. “Today, that amount is about what we spend in 20 minutes of a school day.”

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High court says Price is right — Citizen wins on grocery tax initiative

By Naomi Klouda

Homer Tribune

The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday issued a ruling in favor of a citizen who wanted to let voters decide a grocery tax matter.
The court reversed lower court decisions in James Price v. Kenai Peninsula Borough and Johni Blankenship, clerk.
Price, of the Alliance of Concerned Taxpayers, had challenged the borough in a 2010 lawsuit after Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship turned down his 2009 referendum. The citizen initiative presented the required number of signatures. It sought voter opinion to repeal a borough law that allowed cities like Homer and Seldovia to levy grocery sales tax even during a voter-decided tax holiday October to June.
“It’s my hope that this ends the practice of denying lawfully submitted initiatives,” Price said. “I’m hoping this will stop the practice the borough is using. They use the clerk process to stop the initiative process.”
Next spring, Price plans to take back up his referendum of 2009, when he gathered signatures and requested a public vote on a borough law that made it possible for individual cities to apply the tax. In April, he’s hoping to turn it into the borough clerk’s office for the matter to be placed on the October 2015 ballot.
At issue was whether or not Price’s referendum was legal. Clerk Blankenship ruled it was not, based on the advice of the borough attorney. Alaska District and Superior courts also concluded the proposed referendum lacked general, boroughwide applicability.

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