Voters in the Kalifornsky Beach area and part of Ridgeway have two choices for their Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly representative on Oct. 3 — one the incumbent and the other a current Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education member.
Incumbent Brent Hibbert and challenger Dan Castimore are both aiming to represent District 1, a sprawling district that runs along Kalifornsky Beach Road between Gaswell Road and about Mile 11 and stretches across the river to include part of the Kenai Spur Highway between Knight Drive and Togiak Street, on the assembly. The winner will only hold the seat for a year, though, before it comes up for election again.
Castimore, the information technology director for the city of Kenai, has served on the Board of Education for the past four years and has consistently been a voice for controlling costs. In the fiscal year 2017 budget cycle, he formally voted against finalizing the school district budget because of an objection to not being able to make line-item edits within the budget because of an error in the process, protesting the continuation of Board of Education member health insurance benefits and public employee retirement benefits.
In his candidate’s statement included in the voter pamphlet, he noted that because the school district’s budget is such a significant portion of the borough’s budget — annually, it constitutes about two-thirds of the borough’s general fund spending — that “knowledge of the District’s budget process will be crucial in the coming years as the borough struggles to create a balanced budget.”
Hibbert has occupied the seat since January, when the assembly chose him to replace former member Gary Knopp, who resigned to take up a seat in the Alaska House of Representatives. Castimore, who also applied for the seat, said at the time he had been considering a position on the assembly for a long time and planned to run for the seat in the fall. A third candidate, Kate Veh, originally filed for the seat but has since announced her withdrawal from the race, though her name will still appear on the Oct. 3 ballot.
Though he originally considered running in the October 2015 election, Hibbert said he decided not to enter the race because it was already crowded with four candidates, most of whom were Republicans like himself. So he stayed out of the race, occasionally going to assembly meetings, and took the opportunity to apply after Knopp won the House of Representatives race for District 30 in November 2016.
Hibbert, who owns Alaska Cab on Kalifornsky Beach Road, said he was at a place in his business and life where he felt he should give back to the community.
“I’ve got a great crew here at my place that takes care of things,” he said. “…This community has been great to me, and I’m successful and I have to give a kudos the community for helping me be successful.”
The last nine months on the assembly, including a contentious budget process, have been a steep learning curve, but the borough department heads and administrative have been helpful, Hibbert said. Looking forward to the next year, the main issues residents have come to him with are concerns about flooding in the Kalifornsky Beach area, which caused a disaster and property damage in 2013, and annexation by the city of Soldotna.
The two share a number of political positions — both say the budget is the biggest priority for the borough assembly right now and agree that cuts alone won’t balance the budget. Hibbert said that’s something he recognizes after working on the budget cycle. Part of the problem of funding schools may be solved if voters approve Proposition 3, which would increase the cap on taxable sales from $500 to $1,000 with the exception of residential rent, which would remain at $500.
“I don’t think we have spending problems — I’m not looking at trying to cut spending,” he said. “I think we definitely need to stay on our toes and watch what we do. The services we have been receiving are good … Departments don’t always spend their full budget. There’s going to come some money back from the departments … maybe we’re not looking at a $4 million budget gap.”
Castimore has said multiple times at forums that he believes people should pay for the services they receive and he supports raising additional revenue. Both supported Proposition 2, which would authorize the borough to issue up to $5 million in bonds to pay for repairs to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the George A. Navarre Borough Administration Building in Soldotna.
Both have also said they oppose Proposition 1, which would outlaw commercial cannabis operations in the borough outside the city limits. During a Sept. 13 forum hosted by the joint Kenai and Solodnt chambers of commerce, Castimore called the proposition “absurd” and said he would vote no, keeping the industry legal. Hibbert agreed, saying he supported a legalized industry and allowing the existing businesses to continue operating.
They differ slightly on the issue of annexation. The city of Soldotna has been considering annexing neighboring land outside city limits, a major part o which is in the Kalifornsky Beach Road commercial corridor. The borough assembly doesn’t have a direct role in the process, and neither candidate has taken a firm stance about it.
Hibbert said at a Sept. 1 forum hosted by the community group Borough Citizens Against Annexation that his business would benefit from access to city water and his property taxes might decrease, so he favored it personally. Castimore said he didn’t have any strong feelings about it but noted at the Sept. 13 forum that he didn’t know if the assembly had a role to play in it.
Castimore noted in his candidate’s statement that he strongly opposed the borough’s current invocation policy, which is also the subject of a lawsuit due in court early next year. Hibbert has not expressed strong feelings about the policy but has voted against a resolution that would have removed the invocation entirely and against another that would have required a disclaimer before invocations being given at the assembly level.
“I feel that the current assembly is out of touch with what the public really wants,” Castimore wrote in his candidate’s statement. “Whether it is trying to reestablish sales taxes on food, the invocation policy, or the initiative to ban commercial marijuana, the will of the people is seldom followed.”
Voters will choose between the two candidates on the Oct. 3 municipal regular election ballot.