As if there isn’t enough going on with elections this year, Kenai Peninsula voters will decide this fall whether or not to support multiple ballot measures that address schools, public safety and the makeup of boroughwide legislative bodies.
The fate of $65.5 million worth of deferred Kenai Peninsula Borough School District maintenance projects will be in the hands of borough voters come October.
Ten discrete projects are described by the legislation approved by borough assembly members in June, including the relocation of the KPBSD offices, construction of a restroom and concession stand at Kenai Central High School and new tracks at Nikiski and Seward high schools.
The bond package comes on the heels of yearslong efforts to fund maintenance and repairs across KPBSD’s 42 schools. The district last fall identified $420 million worth of maintenance, including $166 million worth of “critical needs.” Many of the projects represent deferred maintenance, or projects that have been put off for an extended period of time.
If approved, the bond’s impact on taxpayers would depend on whether or not the State of Alaska chips in any money. The cost to borough taxpayers would be about $45 for every $100,000 of property value taxed if the state does not reimburse some of the costs. The cost to borough taxpayers would be about $25 per $100,000 of property value taxed if the state does reimburse some costs.
CES Station 1
Central peninsula voters will decide whether not to fund the construction of a new station for Central Emergency Services, where employees say they’ve outgrown their current space. The current station, located on Binkley Street across from the Soldotna Safeway, serves as a central hub for CES facilities in Sterling, Funny River and Kasilof.
That building is a mishmash of additions made to a cinder block structure originally built as a fire station for the City of Soldotna. Now, the same building — plus its additions — serves about 15,000 central peninsula residents. CES Chief Roy Browning has described the space as “inefficient.”
Borough voters will get the final say, however, on a $16.5 million bond question, which assembly members voted last month to put on the Oct. 4 ballot. The borough estimates that that the bond would cost taxpayers an extra $36 per $100,000 of taxable property value.
In pitching the bond proposal to central peninsula residents, Browning has emphasized that the new station would not just serve Soldotna residents. Station 1 is the busiest fire station on the Kenai Peninsula and responds to about 2,800 calls per year. The new station, Browning has said, will allow CES to grow as demand for services goes up.
Just as the boundaries of Alaska’s state legislative districts were redrawn after the 2020 U.S. Census, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and KPBSD Board of Education need to be reapportioned. That’s because some areas of the peninsula gained new residents at faster rates than other areas, which skews how those areas are represented.
Both bodies were formally declared to be malapportioned by the borough assembly in January. They are each composed of elected representatives from nine single-member districts across the borough. The goal of reapportionment is to get the population of each district as close to a target population as possible, using data from the 2020 Census.
Voters this fall will pick one of two reapportionment plans: the first would retain the current model of nine single-member districts, while the second would add two seats to each body to create 11 single-member districts. For the current redistricting cycle, the target population is 6,533.
Under the newly proposed nine-district plan, no district would deviate from the target population by more than 5%. Under the proposed 11-district plan, no district would deviate from the target population by more than 1.75%. The mean percent deviation for the nine-district plan would be 2.21%, compared to 0.78% for the 11-district plan.
Soldotna field house
In Soldotna, voters will decide whether or not the city should incur up to $15 million for the construction of a field house of 42,000 square feet next to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
The field house, if completed, would include a 215-foot-by-115-foot play area, a three-lane track and other indoor facilities that would accommodate nonathletic activities. City officials estimate that the field house, if constructed next to the sports complex, would be located within 45 minutes of about 37,000 people.
The field house project, expected to cost about $19.5 million in total, was previously defeated by Soldotna voters during a special election in March 2019. That bond failed by 18 votes, with some in opposition saying the city should focus on taking care of the existing sports complex facilities.
Now, the city is ready to give the project another shot.
Soldotna City Council members in July voted to put the field house question back before city voters, citing major maintenance work done at the sports complex. Roughly $2.2 million worth of work is set to be completed at the 38-year-old facility this fall, including the replacement of exterior doors, repairs to locker room facilities and the replacement of the ceiling over the bleachers and mezzanine.
If voters in October approve the bond, the debt incurred would cover about 75% of the total project cost. The city would seek to pay for the cost difference with grants, support from foundations, private donations and money from the city’s general fund.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.