Ordinance would allow service area board members to also be volunteers

An ordinance before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly would allow service area board members to also serve as volunteers at that department.

Many of the services in the borough are provided through service areas instead of directly by the borough. For example, mergency services are provided through Central Emergency Services or the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area, and senior services are provided in Nikiski through the Nikiski Senior Service Area. The service areas are funded by property taxes and are overseen by advisory service area boards, whose members are elected.

However, it’s long been a challenge to fill the seats on the service area boards. In the Oct. 3 election, eight empty seats on service area boards around the borough had no candidates. Seats can remain empty, but if too many are empty, the board can’t get anything done — the board has to have a quorum to conduct any business.

After the election, the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical, Bear Creek Fire, Seward-Bear Creek Flood and Kachemak Emergency each had two vacancies on their boards. The assembly approved the appointment of Christopher Gordon to the Kachemak Emergency Service Area Board at the Tuesday meeting, filling one of the seats on that board.

Assembly members Willy Dunne, Paul Fischer and Kenn Carpenter cosponsored an ordinance to allow a certain number of members of a service area volunteers to also serve on boards. During the Policies and Procedures Committee meeting before the assembly meeting Tuesday, Dunne said the issue came up at several of the service areas in his district when people serving at volunteer fire departments were disqualified from serving on boards.

“In the smaller service areas … it’s always a challenge to find folks who will run and serve on the service area boards,” Dunne said. “We’ve seen empty slots there. I know at the Kachemak Emergency Service Area, there’s been two empty seats for a while.”

The three main areas with the problem are the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area, the Kachemak Emergency Service Area and the Bear Creek Fire Service Area, according to a memo from Fischer, Carpenter and Dunne to the assembly. The main reason for the prohibition is because of a conflict of interest.

“This is because the board members are generally charged with providing for fire and emergency medical services in their service area, which could put them in a position of overseeing certain decisions over the chief as well as their own actions as volunteers,” they wrote. “If a majority of the board members are also volunteers, this would impact the board’s ability to have independent oversight.”

Dunne said the ordinance would allow up to two service area board members to also be volunteers, though they would still have to recuse themselves from voting on issues that concern them as volunteers.

Borough Mayor Mike Navarre raised an issue that if two members of a five-member service area board had to recuse themselves frequently on votes related to their roles as volunteers, it could make accomplishing business difficult because, with the recusals, they may not have enough people to constitute a quorum or the votes may be affected.

“I recognize that in smaller communities they often have a hard time finding and keeping enough volunteers,” he said. “I think maybe having one board member allowed would be appropriate. … By fixing one (problem), you’re going to potentially create another one.”

Service area boards are ultimately advisory to the mayor and the assembly, so they present budgets and updates to the assembly but do not have the final say on service area budgets or activities.

Dunne said he didn’t plan to amend the ordinance Tuesday night because it was only introduced, not up for public hearing. The assembly introduced the ordinance and it is schedule for public hearing at the Dec. 5 meeting.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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