With the election for Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly members less than three weeks away, two of the three candidates for the Sterling and Funny River district provided their insight on local issues Wednesday.
The three candidates for District 5, LaDawn Druce, Stan Welles and Marty Anderson, have a combined 73 years of Alaska residency. The Sterling residents are running for the seat currently held by Charlie Pierce, who has term-limited out. Druce and Welles participated in a candidate forum at the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers luncheon Wednesday. Anderson did not attend.
Druce brings a background of public school educator to the race. She is currently a school counselor at Ninilchik School, River City Academy and Soldotna High School.
Druce was most recently president of the Kenai Peninsula Education Association, a position she held since 2008 before stepping down last July.
She said the opportunity to travel to different schools throughout the borough gave her a unique perspective of the area. A couple years ago, Druce and her husband, Michael Druce, bought a 15-acre farm on Robinson Loop Road and started a family business, Alaska Summer Peonies.
“I like to be involved and make a positive difference in the community,” Druce said. “I bring enthusiasm, energy and incredible work ethic. I support public schools and listen to all perspectives to make a good decision.”
Welles, a retired Boeing aerospace engineer, said he would bring a lot of real world experience to the borough assembly along with experience in agriculture and erosion control.
He said he is looking forward to celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary with his wife, Nikki Welles, in December. He said being a good assemblyman means stewardship of other people’s assets.
“From an engineering background, I tend to be more analytical, looking for metrics to measure productivity as opposed to throwing more money at the issue,” Welles said.
The candidates were asked if they supported or opposed the borough’s funding of non-departmental, or non-profit, organizations.
Welles said as a second class borough its function should be to determine what services are needed and justify for taxpayers the need for service. If there is no profit incentive and it is more cost effective for a private sector to provide similar services, that is the course of action he would pursue, he said.
“Don’t fund irresponsibility but consider competitive bids,” he said.
Druce said she supports non-profits like Central Area Rural Transit System and the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council because they provide an important need in the community.
“Tourism and economic development are important because they sustain a healthy community environment,” she said.
Kelly Cooper, who is running unopposed for the Homer district, also participated in the candidate forum. She said she would have liked a challenger because debate brings good dialogue and gives voters a choice.
Cooper supported funding for non-profits but said if people want these services to remain, compromises would need to be made to pay for them through taxes.
On the issue of health care, the candidates were asked if they supported the current operating policy of Central Peninsula Hospital and if the community would benefit from more healthcare services available on the peninsula.
Druce said she supports the policy as she understands it but felt it continually needs to be looked at to make necessary changes. As for making health services more conveniently located for patients to access it, she said she is hesitant to know how more health facilities would impact the budget if the cost could be more prohibitive than for people to go outside the area to receive services.
Welles said while he has a steep learning curve on the hospital operating policy, he has concerns that he will research. On the idea of more competing health services, he said the example of the Surgery Center of Kenai has tied the borough government’s hands because the center’s surgical payment rates are cheaper but are not allowed to compete with the CPH.
Cooper is on the South Peninsula Hospital Board, which is responsible for a budget of $53 million and provides a healthcare service area of 15,000 people.
Cooper said she supported the current hospital operating policy whaich has worked well to this point, but with healthcare reform changes would be on the horizon.
On the two propositions that will appear on the Oct. 7 ballot, Druce and Welles had different views.
Proposition A is an advisory vote that has two parts, asking weather the borough should exercise limited animal control in non-incorporated areas and if the borough should impose a mill rate of 0.02 on properties outside of cities to pay for domestic animal rescue and care.
Both Druce and Welles said they were against funding animal control. While Druce said the proposition has a good intention she felt it could be handled in a different way. Welles said the components of animal control should remain in the hands of law enforcement.
Proposition B, is an advisory vote on whether the borough should conduct vote-by-mail elections. Druce said she supported the measure with the intention to get more people voting. In 2011, only 13 percent of registered voters in Funny River and 19 percent of Sterling residents voted, she said.
“That is unfortunate and not acceptable,” she said. “If this increases the incentive for more people to vote, I am in favor.”
Welles said vote by mail is expected to cost the borough $46,000 and he heard testimony of people concerned about voter fraud being more prevalent with a mail-in ballot. He said he couldn’t in good conscience vote for the proposition.
Druce and Welles both said they didn’t feel bound to advisory votes.
“I feel it is ironic one of the advisory votes on the ballot is about voting,” Druce said. “When you have less than 30 percent of borough voters, even if the advisory vote is clear, you only have 30 percent of voices represented.”
Welles said he has come across many people in the community who are “pissed off” at politicians and have given up on participating in the election process.
“Unfortunately they don’t recognize that their abdication of their responsibility to participate in the governance of their freedom will lead to a loss of their freedom,” he said. He illustrated his point with an equation: “100 percent minus voter turnout equals a percentage of freedom lost. Have we not lost about 80 percent of our freedom?”