Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander facilitates a discussion about the city’s budget with residents through an interactive poll, at the Kenai Senior Center in Kenai on Tuesday. (Photo by Victoria Petersen

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander facilitates a discussion about the city’s budget with residents through an interactive poll, at the Kenai Senior Center in Kenai on Tuesday. (Photo by Victoria Petersen

Kenai citizens weigh in on budget cuts, tax hikes

Participants were asked to rank priorities for cuts to public services

At the Kenai Senior Center, the city of Kenai invited the community to come together Tuesday night to discuss the city’s budget and what services are most important to them.

City Manager Paul Ostrander said it was the first time the city put on such an event. The event began with a presentation, going over the city’s budget, the services offered and capital projects the city is working toward. Going forward, Ostrander said the city would almost certainly be looking at budget cuts and revenue options.

“Somehow, we are going to have to replace the money the state used to provide,” Ostrander said in his presentation.

State contribution to the city ceased several years ago when the price of oil fell. Since then, the city’s budget has seen little to no state contribution. Ostrander said it would be safe to assume state funding for the city would likely remain low for the foreseeable future.

“It’s certainly an interesting time in our state history right now,” Ostrander said. “There are lots going on with the state that has piqued everyone’s interests. Where the state is affected, it will trickle down to every level of government in our state.”

Several bills, SB 57 and SB 63, introduced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy to the state Legislature could affect the city’s revenue flow. The bills, if passed, would eliminate a local municipality’s ability to collect property taxes from oil and gas property, and business taxes from fisheries, which would result in a total of $350,000 loss in tax revenues for the city.

Before addressing budget cuts or revenue options, the city used the event to launch an interactive poll that engaged residents in what services they valued most.

Attendees of the event could pull the poll up on their cellphone, or use one of the laptops provided at the event to participate in the poll. The poll’s beginning question asked the audience to describe their favorite part about living in Kenai using one word. After residents submitted their answers, words like “beach,” “community,” “schools,” and even “Burger Bus” began to appear on the presentation screen.

Next, the poll asked how important or unimportant were several city services like the Kenai Municipal Airport, Kenai Animal Shelter, Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center, Kenai Senior Services, Kenai Community Library, Kenai Parks and Recreation, Kenai Police Department, Kenai Fire Department and street maintenance.

Services like the airport, senior services, the police and fire department and street maintenance were among the most important to the crowd, while the library, parks and recreation department, animal shelter and visitors center were less important.

The city asked attendees what tax would they create if they had to. Participants were able to choose two options, including a bed tax, a local marijuana tax, a seasonal sales tax that would be active for six months of the year, an increase in sales tax and an increase in property tax.

Creating a bed tax was the most popular option in the room. A local marijuana tax came next, and a seasonal sales tax and increases to existing taxes were less popular.

When asked what services the city should consider reducing, participants chose the visitors center and the animal shelter.

The final question asked participants what non-budgeted initiatives the city should pursue. Ideas like more festivals, a dip net tax, creating incentives for the revitalization of abandoned or derelict buildings and developing Old Town Kenai as a cultural destination were among the ideas the crowd offered.

Ostrander said they would try to share the poll results on the city’s website.

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