Kenn Carpenter, a procurement specialist at Seward’s AVTEC vocational training school, will represent Seward, Cooper Landing, Moose Pass, Hope, east Sterling, and other areas of the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s District 6 on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.
Sitting assembly members appointed Carpenter by secret ballot Tuesday to take the seat of former assembly member Brandii Holmdahl, who resigned her seat after relocating to Boston.
Carpenter, who ran against Holmdahl in the October 2015 assembly election, was one of three people to apply for her seat. The others were Sterling resident Dave Cleveland, who works for the Alaska Department of Corrections at Kenai’s Wildwood Correctional Facility, and Cooper Landing resident Larry Smith, co-owner of D&L Construction contractors.
Prior to the Tuesday meeting, assembly members interviewed all three during a committee meeting. Carpenter, who also sits on the Seward Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said he’d applied at the request of Seward groups such as the American Legion, whom he said approached him about filling the vacancy. Asked what he believes to be the most important issue facing the borough, Carpenter said senior citizens need greater representation.
“I really think seniors in all the areas need to be taken care of,” Carpenter said. “I think that’s a big issue.”
Cleveland and Smith both named the borough budget, which is likely to be reduced by a loss of state spending and the general economic downturn, as their issue of greatest concern.
“That is, was, and I think always will be the number one issue,” Smith said of the budget. The challenge, he said, would be negotiating between decreased oil revenue and undiminished demand for services.
Cleveland said the borough’s required services should take priority over non-required ones, and that anyone who offers solutions to budget issues should be listened to.
Ogle asked each applicant their views on education funding, zoning, and taxation.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District receives 35 percent of its roughly $136 million budget from the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the remainder from the state. Kenai Peninsula school district officials have anticipated state cuts, with Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones saying at a Monday school board meeting that “the best rumor” suggests the legislature may take five percent from school funding — a loss of about $5.29 million to the district. School district officials have been pressuring the borough assembly to make up the loss by giving the maximum legal funding to the district — “funding to the cap” of $51 million. For the past two years the assembly has funded below the cap, giving $48.23 million in this year’s budget.
Carpenter said he was experiencing the effects of state cuts in his position at AVTEC and that the assembly would have to be “constructive and imaginative” to deal with the loss.
“We’re going to have to have our imaginations riled to come up with the money, but I think education is very important… I’m not really happy with the education system as it is as when we went to school, so it needs to be a little reformed and we definitely need to fund the schools.”
Cleveland emphasized the importance of quality education in attracting and keeping young people in the area. Smith did the same.
“Not to say that there might not be some fluff inside that school budget,” Smith said, noting that education is the borough’s largest expense — taking up 40.85 percent of the borough’s present budget.
Dealing with its own funding losses from the state, the borough has proposed tax changes to compensate. Last year Borough Mayor Mike Navarre proposed revenue-increasing tax measures — two of which, doubling the borough sales tax cap and repealing a property tax exemption for senior citizens, failed as ballot initiatives in Oct. 2016, while others — such as making non-profits subject to sales tax — have gone into effect.
Carpenter said he “wasn’t a big tax guy” but he understands taxes are important.
“It’s just a matter of where it’s coming from and how we do it, and stuff like that,” Carpenter said. He added that his work at AVTEC deals heavily with budgeting.
Cleveland said he wanted to be sure taxation is “done in an even way across the board.”
Smith said he was pleased with the relatively low taxation in the Kenai Peninsula Borough and that if selected he’d “be a hard sell for new taxes, but we’re looking at a downturn in the economy for a couple years, so who knows what will happen.”
Asked about zoning, Carpenter and Smith both referred to the borough’s much-challenged rule that requires development to be set back 50 feet from rivers and streams. Carpenter mentioned friends who own lake-front property and said “fifty feet of it now belongs to the borough,” adding that he “might have issues with something like that.”
Smith said that he has “a big problem with the borough telling me that the first 50 feet of my property on the Kenai River in Cooper landing, I can’t do what I want to do on it.”
Smith added that zoning might be necessary as the area becomes more populated and that he “would defer to the taxpayers, if that’s what they want to do.”
Cleveland cited his experience in the growing town of Sterling as a reason “we might need to look at” some zoning.
“With the influx of people, things change, things happen. Maybe some limited zoning here and there — it would depend on what’s going on. I’m not totally against it but it would have to be reviewed carefully.”
At the subsequent meeting, eight assembly members voted for their choice by secret ballot. The ninth member, Holmdahl, was ineligible to vote for her successor. Holmdahl moved about a month ago but participated in the meeting by phone.
Carpenter won with six votes. Cleveland got two votes, and Smith none.
Carpenter will participate in his first meeting on April 4 as one of three appointed members now sitting on the nine-member assembly. The others are Brent Hibbert, who was chosen Jan. 4 to replace Gary Knopp — who now represents District 30 in the Alaska House of Representatives — and Jill Schaefer, who was chosen Feb. 14 to replace Blaine Gilman after he moved out of his district.
The three appointees will sit on the assembly until October 2017, when they will have to run to retain their seats in the municipal election.
During the Tuesday meeting’s public comment period, Kasilof resident George Pierce called the appointments undemocratic.
“This process has to stop,” Pierce said. “You’re completely ignoring the people that live in the district. It’s nothing about the people that have been appointed — it’s just the procedure that it’s done. You’re eliminating the district’s voice, and you eight people are deciding who you want, and that’s not the right way to do things. … You’re stacking the deck — who you want in here for your agenda.”
Alaska state code requires members of a governing body to fill any vacancy that would last longer than 30 days by appointment, and to do so within 30 days. Having such vacancies arise three times within three months was a coincidence, said Borough Mayor Mike Navarre, addressing Pierce’s concern.
“The reason we appoint assembly members in this way is that sometimes a person resigning from the assembly may not have a lot of advance notice, and neither does the assembly,” Navarre said. “So it’s prescribed in law how we go about filling these positions on a temporary basis until the next election. Absent that, we have a time delay where those citizens in those communities don’t have anybody sitting on the assembly representing their community interest during the time it takes to identify that there’s going to be a vacancy, the process of a campaign, a vote, and seating on the assembly.”
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.