Kenai City Council candidates Tim Navarre, Teea Winger and Henry Knackstedt answered questions from the Kenai Chamber of Commerce Wednesday about local issues ahead of the municipal election on Oct. 6.
Kenai residents will have the opportunity to vote for two of the candidates, with the top two vote-getters being elected to the Kenai City Council. Navarre and Knackstedt are current city council members. The event was moderated by Merrill Sikorski. The questions were submitted ahead of time by chamber members.
When asked what their No. 1 priority would be as a city council member, all three mentioned the completion of the Bluff Stabilization Project. The city recently entered into an agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers to begin the design phase of the project, which is set to begin by the end of the year. The project is intended to stabilize a portion of the bluff in Kenai that overlooks the Kenai River and has been a priority of the city for decades.
Navarre and Knackstedt both noted their roles in pushing the project forward during their time on city council.
“My top priority has always been the same, even when I was on the borough assembly and when I wasn’t in any elected position, and that’s the bluff project in the city of Kenai,” Navarre said.
Knackstedt noted his support for the project. “I’ve been an advocate from the get-go that we should be able to do the design here at the local level, and once we get it designed we can work on getting the funds,” Knackstedt said.
Winger also emphasized the need for support for small businesses. “They need to make sure they’re getting access to all the COVID funds, and we need to be making sure they stick around this winter,” Winger said.
The candidates were also asked how they currently volunteer their services within the community.
Knackstedt noted his roles as commander of the Civil Air Patrol, the president of the Kenai Community Foundation, member of the board of the Kenai Historical Society and a member of the Elks Lodge.
“I do those things and anything that’s necessary within the city,” Knackstedt said.
Winger spoke of her time serving on the Parks and Recreation Committee for the city and her experience volunteering as the PTA president of Mountainview Elementary. Winger has also hosted blood drives for the Blood Bank and participated in fundraisers for the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
“My involvement at Mountainview Elementary was really strong until we started home-schooling, but we are still doing a lot of things to support the school even though we are not there with the teachers,” Winger said.
Navarre said that he has played the role of Santa Claus for the past 30 years at the annual Christmas Comes to Kenai event, been involved with Industry Appreciation Day for 27 years and has participated in job shadowing and mentorship programs with the school district.
“It’s probably easier if just tell you what I don’t do,” Navarre said. “And there’s nothing I don’t do.”
The candidates were asked to weigh in on the city’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The two sitting council members noted that Kenai was the first city in Alaska to set up its small business grant program from the CARES Act funds that were received at the beginning of the summer.
“A lot of communities across the state copied the city of Kenai’s direction on how fast we moved and how much we impacted the small businesses and nonprofits in our communities,” Navarre said.
Knackstedt also touted the program.
“For small businesses, there’s another round of funds coming up on Oct. 1 and all of the businesses that applied before will be getting an email,” Knackstedt said. “The application takes three minutes to fill out. It’s simple.”
Winger said that the city should be doing more to get that application into the hands of business owners who still might not be aware of the grant program because they are too busy struggling to stay afloat.
“In a two-week period, they do not have time to get online and fill out an application,” Winger said. “So having something sent to their businesses would put the funds into more hands and make sure that we are getting those funds dispersed out to businesses that might not have internet or that technology.”
When asked about the city’s management of the dipnet fishery on the Kenai River, Navarre and Knackstedt said that the fishery has been handled well and has improved since it first opened in 1996. Navarre noted that the fishery is finally at a point where the revenue from the user fees covers the cost of management. Knackstedt said that the days of seeing photos of the beach covered in fish carcasses are no more.
“I still see pictures on Facebook from about eight, 10 years ago, and that’s just not the case any longer,” Knackstedt said. “They city’s got a well-refined process. We’ve got a fund balance on how we’re going to fund it, and this year we exceeded that. I wouldn’t say we made money, but we certainly didn’t lose any.”
Winger recognized how far the city has come in its fishery management while also noting that there is still room for improvement.
“I personally live close to that fishery,” Winger said. “So when you have side-by-sides ripping up and down your neighborhood just to access the beach or you have fish waste being dumped, curbing those problems would be key.”
The candidates were asked what they would do if they were given a grant for $1 million that could be used for any kind of project within the city.
Navarre said he would put it towards addressing homelessness in the community, specifically improving public transportation.
Winger also said she would use the money to address homelessness, focusing on funding for mental health and addiction recovery services.
Knackstedt said he would put the money toward the city’s capital improvement projects, addressing maintenance on roads and buildings like the water treatment plant.
In their closing statements, the candidates made their pitch as to why voters should select them as one of the next two city council members for Kenai.
“I know I have the energy and desire to move our city forward. I think we’ve been doing that for the last six years very well, and we’ll continue with that,” Knackstedt said.
“I am a go-getter. I’m not going to live in the past. We’re living in the future, and the future is my children, and making sure that we’re leaving the best city behind for them,” Winger said.
“I’m old enough to know the first generation that helped start Kenai. I knew them. I watched them. They were good people and they put a lot of hard work and dedication into making the city what it is today. And I’ve just taken that role and been doing my part to continue to move it forward,” Navarre said.
The full forum can be viewed on the Kenai Chamber of Commerce Facebook page.