The group of Kenai Peninsula residents who advise the borough on planning decisions will soon get smaller following a Tuesday vote by assembly members to reduce the number of commissioners from 14 to nine.
The move to make the commission smaller started with assembly member Bill Elam, who cited cost savings for the borough in deciding to bring the ordinance forward. It’s estimated that reducing membership by five people would save the borough about $47,000 in compensation fees for commissioners.
The borough planning commission is responsible for planning the “systemic development and betterment” of the borough and has approval and rejection authority over plots of land.
Under the changes approved Tuesday, commission will now have nine members. Of those, five will hold at-large seats representing the areas of Nikiski, Funny River and Sterling, Cooper Landing and the eastern peninsula, Kalifornsky and Kasilof, and the southern peninsula. The other four seats will be held by the cities of Homer, Kenai, Seward and Soldotna.
As currently configured, the 14-member body includes five seats for the borough’s first-class and home-rule cities and nine seats covering the same nine districts as the borough assembly.
As initially approved by Elam, the borough’s first-class and home-rule cities would not have had designated seats on the borough planning commission. Rather, the nine seats would correspond directly with the district makeup of the assembly and of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.
Some municipalities expressed concerns, however, about potentially being represented by residents who live outside of city limits, but still within a city’s assembly district. The City of Soldotna, for example, asked that the borough allow 11 members, with two seats rotating among the borough’s first-class and home-rule cities.
The borough’s process for appointing applicants to the planning commission underwent major changes after a monthslong back-and-forth between the borough and the City of Soldotna. The Soldotna City Council thrice nominated a candidate who the borough mayor would not appoint, and council members expressed skepticism about Elam’s ordinance as introduced.
Assembly members Tuesday ultimately approved an iteration of the original ordinance brought forth by assembly member Tyson Cox, who represents Soldotna.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Director Robert Ruffner testified in support of any initiative that brings commission membership down to nine during a Tuesday meeting of the assembly’s policies and procedures committee. Ruffner said the sooner the assembly votes on the issue, the sooner current commissioners can have certainty.
“I would also hope that we could just pass this tonight and move on with this because it does cause a lot of angst for volunteers that are serving as planning commissioners,” Ruffner told the committee. “So the sooner we can just pull the Band-Aid off (and) make a decision to get it done, the better off I think everybody would be in the process.”
Because there are more than nine commissioners currently sitting on the body, some will need to be dismissed. The ordinance passed Tuesday says Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche is authorized to remove commissioners while enforcing the legislation.
Tuesday’s assembly meeting can be streamed on the borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.