Three of the candidates for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly from District 1 made their case Wednesday at a forum hosted by the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce.
The district includes a swathe of land from Kalifornsky Beach Road south of the river across to Soldotna. Kelly Wolf, the incumbent, will face off against Robin Davis, a capital project manager for the borough; Dr. David Wartinbee, a professor of biology at Kenai Peninsula College; and Gary Knopp, a former assemblyman from 2006-2012. Wolf did not attend the forum.
The winning candidate only needs to obtain the majority of votes to win — only mayoral elections require a runoff if a candidate fails to win the majority. The elected representative will take office Oct. 19.
Wartinbee, Davis and Knopp answered submitted questions at the forum, ranging from flooding issues to support for tourism marketing. Many of the questions focused on fiscal issues, but others addressed the candidates’ opinions of the borough assembly’s role in health care and the anadromous streams protection ordinance.
While the three candidates agreed wholeheartedly on multiple issues — they all said they would fight banning setnets in urban areas and they all support the borough’s tourism marketing — they disagreed on many others. Wartinbee, a first-time candidate, opened the questions with his opinion on the borough’s responsibility in the pending arrival of the LNG plant to Nikiski and the proposed payment in lieu of taxes.
“I’m a little fearful of that kind of thing, but at the same time, we may need this development and have to entice it with tax breaks, that sort of thing,” Wartinbee said. “I think it’s something we probably will do and need to do, but we may not have to be overly generous.”
Davis said his primary interest would be to focus on the period “after the dust settles” on the LNG project and how it will affect the peninsula in the future. He said he has little doubt that the project will come and the borough assembly should focus on how to incorporate it into the industry of the peninsula after the initial boom. He said he supported taxes rather than the payment in lieu of taxes system.
“I’d like to see us have better schools instead of worn-out schools and better roads instead of worn-out roads,” Davis said.
The payment in lieu of taxes for the LNG project is a necessary evil to stabilize the market but may be shortchanging the borough in terms of reimbursement, Knopp said.
“I guess for the sake of promoting and stabilizing taxation so the municipalities don’t fluctuate the rate of stability to the industry and markets, whatever they may be,” Knopp said.
He said he supports the development of gas as an economic opportunity on the peninsula and possibly the reintroduction of the Agrium plant in Nikiski, which shut down in 2007.
While industry was a major topic, the candidates also touched on the anadromous streams protection ordinance. When it was initially passed, it raised some outcry over limiting personal liberty because it requires a 50-foot setback.
Davis said he supports both personal liberty and responsible protection of the environment, which are “diametrically opposed views.” If elected, he said he would not support repealing the ordinance but would move to tweak it to make it less intrusive.
Knopp agreed with Davis, saying he would rather support a habitat restoration tax credit to individuals who own riverfront property. He said he proposed it back when the anadromous streams ordinance was being considered but it did not gain traction.
“I’d support that, it’s more manageable with documentation,” Knopp said. “This, what we have in process, is not manageable.”
Wartinbee, who served on the Anadromous Fish Habitat Protection Task Force in 2013, said he considers the protections reasonable and important to preserve the peninsula’s environment for the future.
“We don’t want to end up like Washington and Oregon, wishing he had done it before,” Wartinbee said. “We still have our salmon, we still have our anadromous fish. Let’s keep it that way, and this is how to do it.”
One of the final questions was how to balance the borough’s budget in terms of expenditures versus revenues. Knopp said he believed the budget is pretty well balanced at present and would not favor an expansion in taxes right now. He said one of his major reasons for running is to be a part of Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre’s rewrite of the tax code over his remaining two years in office.
“I think (the tax code rewrite) is way past due, and that’s my motivation for running — there’s some changes in there that I thought needed to be made a long time ago,” Knopp said.
Davis agreed that the budget is balanced and said the borough employees are very responsible about spending. He said that while he does not support more taxes, the borough does need better coordination of spending to more optimally use the money it does have.
Wartinbee said his main concern is the reduction in funding that will come from the state. He said it is a sound budget at present but there are not many places to cut from excessive spending.
“At that point … we’ll put everything on the table and say, ‘What can we cut and where do we need to look to raise additional revenues?’” Wartinbee said.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.