Planning Commission opposes reducing membership

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Planning Commission chose not to support an assembly ordinance that would reduce its membership.

The proposed ordinance, which will go to public hearing at the assembly’s July 26 meeting, would reduce the planning commission’s membership from the current 13 to nine. To meet the requirement, only three representatives would be allowed from the home-rule and first class cities — Kenai, Soldotna, Homer, Seward and Seldovia. Kenai and Soldotna’s seats would be combined, as would Homer and Seldovia’s seats.

To adequately represent the population outside the cities as well as the cities’ residents, the borough should have increased the planning commission membership to 15 people in 2010 after the new census numbers came out. However, that is a large body, and reducing the number to nine makes the process easier, wrote assembly member Brent Johnson in his sponsor’s memo to the assembly.

However, the cities objected. Seward, Kenai, Soldotna and Homer all passed resolutions opposing the ordinance. The commissioner from Seldovia, Paulette Bokenko-Carluccio, said Seldovia and Homer have differing interests and combining their representatives would shortchange Seldovia.

“Even though we are a small community and we are on the other side of the bay and very remote, we are affected by things that go on in the rest of the borough, and I think that it behooves us to have a seat on this planning commission,” Bokenko-Carluccio said.

Commissioner Paul Whitney, who represents Soldotna, said the city council voted to oppose the ordinance as it is currently written.

“We don’t feel it’s a benefit to our community or the outlying areas in the borough,” Whitney said.

The crux of the borough’s argument is that 15 commissioners is too many, not so much that 13 is a problem, said commissioner James Isham. He said he would feel more comfortable going down to a smaller number of commissioners if the planning commission had more surveyors on board.

“That’s where I think we should try to come up with a solution, and I don’t see how we can get there if we don’t do some eliminating,” Isham said.

Assembly member Dale Bagley and Borough Mayor Mike Navarre brought an amendment to the planning commission for consideration that would reduce the membership to 11 instead of nine, keeping the members from each of the largest four cities on the peninsula — currently Kenai, Homer, Soldotna and Seward.

Reducing the membership would save transportation, stipend and lodging costs for the borough. The annual cost to operate the planning commission is about $6,000 per member, said borough Planning Director Max Best at the commission’s meeting Monday. The most expensive seat is the representative from Seldovia, who has to be flown into Soldotna for the meetings and housed — that cost is about double the cost for the others, he said.

The planning commission voted not to support the ordinance by a margin of 8-2.

The commission is an advisory body; the borough assembly can still pass the ordinance, even if the commission opposes it. The ordinance and the amendment will come up for public hearing July 26.

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

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