The personal-use fishery, Kenai’s mill rate and purchasing policy, and the improbable unification of Kenai and Soldotna were among the subjects discussed at a Wednesday forum by the three candidates for the two open seats on the Kenai City Council.
Mike Boyle, James Glendening and council incumbent Bob Molloy came to the Kenai Chamber of Commerce visitor’s center to give their 30 second answers to questions from moderator Merrill Sikorski. After the Kenai municipal election on Oct. 6, the two candidates with the greatest number of votes will join the Kenai Council.
In two-minute opening statements, the candidates outlined their reasons for seeking office.
Boyle, an education coordinator at Kenai’s Wildwood Correctional Complex, previously sat on the Kenai City Council for nine years before losing a re-election bid in 2014. He said his return to the council would make the group more representative of the community.
“I think it’s important we have a representative group up on the dais,” Boyle said. “I think I can bring that, rather than having (a council) that gets heavy to one side, where we have a very lop-sided voting score, if you will. I think my position up there on the dais will balance that out a bit.”
Glendening, a former employee of oil company Arco Alaska and a current member of both the Kenai municipal and Kenai Peninsula Borough planning and zoning commissions, said budget concerns were among his reasons for running.
“I look forward to helping to keep Kenai on a solid financial footing with a conservative budget, and at the same time provide the services that our citizens deserve,” Glendening said, naming senior citizens as a group with a particular need for services.
Molloy, an attorney who was first elected to the Kenai Council in 2005, said he is running because “there is unfinished business and new business that I am interested in.” In his closing remarks, Molloy said this business includes improving Kenai’s purchasing and planning and zoning codes, and “working on Kenai’s comprehensive plan with the public.”
Although no revisions of the comprehensive plan — a document meant to provide a foundation for all the city’s land use decisions by outlining basic economic goals, which was last updated in 2003 — are scheduled anytime soon, Molloy has said in a previous Clarion interview that the plan will likely appear on future council agendas.
Glendening also referred to the comprehensive plan, which he said may be reviewed in the coming spring, when answering the question of how the candidates would work to encourage new businesses to come to Kenai.
“It begins with zoning,” Glendening said. He said having designated areas in the city for specific businesses is beneficial, referencing Kenai’s airport reserve zone and the cluster of banks near the old Carrs Mall.
“We have the ability to design a community that is welcoming to businesses,” Glendening said.
Boyle elaborated, speaking of the possibility of “designated certain areas as maybe an area for small retail. … Encouraging people to go into specific areas and building a ‘downtown,’ if you will.
“That would develop a specific economic region, like many communities do in different parts of the country, that would encourage small businesses and entrepreneurs to make their homes there.”
Molloy said that it would be important to keep the mill rate and sales tax stable. Kenai’s mill rate — the amount of property tax taken from each dollar of a property’s assessed value, given in thousandths of a dollar — is presently 4.35.
The next question focused specifically on the mill rate, asking under what circumstances each candidate would vote to raise it.
“I’ve never been one to promote a low mill rate,” Boyle said. “I don’t promote spending money needlessly, either. I think the mill rate is based on the needs of the community. And personally, I don’t think I would ever run a campaign based on a low mill rate, or a tax rate. When times are good and there’s a lot of income for the city, then the mill rate will go down. And when the city has greater needs, then the income needs to keep up and it may be necessary to raise the mill rate.”
Glendening gave a more specific answer.
“The senior citizen center … is right on the edge of financial stability,” Glendening said. “That would perhaps be the only thing I’d consider a mill rate raise for.”
Molloy referred to Kenai’s last mill rate increase in June 2014, which he said was prompted by concerns with “employee benefits and compensation, and health care costs particularly.” Molloy, who voted against that mill rate increase, said he would expect the city administration to make budget cuts before he’d consider a mill rate hike.
Another question was about the city’s policy of leasing land it owns to businesses, an issue that has been debated recently as Kenai raises lease rates on its airport properties.
“Do you believe that the city’s current land-leasing policies are helping or hindering development?” Sikorski asked the candidates. “And the follow-up would be: are there changes necessary to the city’s leasing policy?”
Molloy said the city’s current method of setting lease rates by a contracted appraisal is “legitimate for council and administration to revisit.” After Kenai’s most recent appraisal, carried out by Anchorage-based appraisers MacSwain Associates in June 2015, leases on some airport properties have more than doubled.
Molloy said “there’s been some talk” of basing lease-rate adjustments on the consumer price index rather than on appraisals.
“I think that’s something that should be addressed,” Molloy said. In an interview after the forum, he said he had no specific plans at the time to propose an alternative lease-setting method to the Council.
Glendening said leasing in the airport reserve “makes (the airport) sustainable, viable, makes it available as an economic hub for our city” and that he would “support anything that would keep (leaseholders) in place.”
Boyle did not think lease-setting revisions are necessary.
“I see no major changes needed in our leasing policies,” Boyle said. “I think as long as we’re looking at the fair market value for the rents of our lands, everyone can benefit.”
Another question raised the subject of the city’s summer dipnet fishery management.
“Do we need to make more changes, or are we doing a good job?” Sikorski asked.
Boyle said he had been involved in the dipnet fishery “pretty much since the beginning,” and that “every year, something is learned, and every year the city does a better job.”
“I think the city is doing a fairly good job with the dipnet fishery,” Boyle said. “We can control what we can control.”
Glendening also said the city was managing the fishery well and referred to a proposed road that Kenai plans to build from Bowpicker Lane to the Cook Inlet beach south of the Kenai River, intended to provide better access for dipnetters. The road, he said, “will provide direct access and safety for the participants and an opportunity to educate the users to the fragility of the environment.”
Molloy also said the city is managing the fishery well, and that as a council member he received only one complaint about the 2015 fishery, related to the placement of a fee collection booth.
In response to a question of whether changes were needed in the city procurement policy to give more incentives to local vendors, Molloy referred to a review of the city purchasing code he has done with fellow council member Henry Knackstedt. Molloy said his and Knackstedt’s suggested revisions to the code include “minor changes to our local bidder definition.” Molloy and Knackstedt’s suggested amendments to the code will be up for public hearing at the Kenai Council’s next two meetings, on Sept. 16 and Oct. 7.
Boyle recalled a time during his previous terms on council when a city employee noticed that city trucks had license-plate frames indicating they’d been bought from dealers in Anchorage. Boyle said that the employee had asked that the frames be taken off.
“I would absolutely support any local preference for vendors within the city that we do business with, as opposed to those not within the city,” Boyle said.
Glendening said that a greater outreach effort would help local vendors better meet the city’s needs.
“We can do well, perhaps in describing what our needs are, to advertise that a little sooner, and a little more thoroughly, so these people (local vendors) can prepare, locate inventory, and make proper proposals for the city,” Glendening said.
Glendening was the first to answer the next question, which he said took him by surprise.
“In looking at innovative, creative ways to streamline the cost of government, is there any way you’d look into the unification of the two cities, Soldotna and Kenai?” Sikorski asked the candidates.
“You threw me for a curve there,” Glendening replied. “I always thought it would be the other way: after the boom, I thought Nikiski would absorb Kenai.”
Glendening said that unification of Kenai and Nikiski would make more sense because the cities shared a common economic foundation in industry, while Soldotna is based more on tourism.
Boyle also rejected the proposal.
“If these cities ever were to join, it would be something more out in the far distant future,” Boyle said.
Molloy, the last to respond to the question, said only: “No.”