A lack of candidates plagues service area board elections

After October, only two of the five members of the Seldovia Recreational Service Area Board will be elected. The other three will be appointed by Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre.

It’s nothing to do with circumventing the public election process. It’s that no one applied to run for the seats in the Oct. 3 regular election, and the three incumbents did not reapply. It’s the same for eight other seats on service area boards around the borough, including the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Service Area Board, the Kachemak Emergency Service Area Board and two other boards besides Seldovia’s Recreational Service Area Board.

Mark Janes, a member of the Seldovia Recreational Service Area Board, said it’s not the first time the board has had the problem of no one applying for vacancies.

“People are busy, people are on other boards — I sit on another couple of boards,” he said. “… It is difficult to find people who are willing to (serve on these boards).”

The lack of applicants for service are board seats is a fairly common problem with the service areas in the borough. As a second-class borough, many of the borough’s services are conceived through service areas — areas with defined boundaries that levy a property tax to provide a service such as a fire department, senior activities or flood mitigation. The borough currently has 14 of them.

At the upcoming election on Oct. 3, voters in the service areas will get to choose the names for candidates on the service area boards. The troubles is that in the majority of the cases, the voters don’t necessarily have to choose — in all but one case, the candidates are uncontested. The only race with two candidates is one seat on the Nikiski Senior Service Area Board.

The boards determine the budgets for the area, have staff dedicated to them and provide advice to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and the borough mayor, who have the final say on service area spending decisions. But if multiple seats remain vacant, it can stop the board from getting anything done because there aren’t enough members to make a quorum, said Borough Mayor Mike Navarre. That’s been a problem for years, he said.

“(The service area board election process) doesn’t really get to the sort of contested race based on different values,” he said. “…And I think the people who serve on service area boards do a great job. But what happens then is that sometimes people don’t run for a reason, but if somebody doesn’t run, it indicates that they’re not interested in continuing to serve.”

Borough code states that if no candidate files for a vacant seat, no election will be conducted for it, and the seat can be filled by appointment by the mayor and confirmed by the assembly. A later amendment allowed current members to continue to serve in the seat until they are succeeded, but that cannot continue indefinitely, as the seats have to be declared vacant and someone may not want to continue serving, Navarre said.

What ends up happening is the current board members try to recruit someone in the community to apply for the seat or Navarre’s office asks the service area staff to scout for a potential member to apply for appointment, he said.

The assembly considered an ordinance to transition the service areas to being appointed positions rather than elected ones in 2012, but unanimously shot it down. The borough clerk’s office at the time estimated that switching to an appointment process rather than election for the boards would save thousands of dollars. Because Navarre will be termed out of the mayor’s office in October, he said he doesn’t plan to tackle it, but it should be addressed at some point.

“The issue is not going to go away, and at some point I think we should look at the cost, et cetera, of running the elections,” he said.

Janes said the time commitment for serving on a board isn’t a major one, but in the small community of Seldovia, finding year-round residents who are willing to serve on the board can be a challenge.

“(We have) one meeting a month,” he said. ”…It’s not a huge commitment, but doing all the prep work (is helpful) — it’s always nice to have people who do their homework.”

Kenai Peninsula voters will choose their service area board members in the Oct. 3 regular election.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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