Duane Bannock (right), a candidate for the District 2 seat on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, answers a question during a forum hosted by the Central Peninsula League of Women Voters as fellow candidate Hal Smalley listens Sept. 13, 2017 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion)

Smalley, Bannock face off in District 2

Two familiar political characters are facing off again to represent District 2 to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

Voters in the city of Kenai have a choice between two people for who will represent them on the assembly for the next year: Duane Bannock or Hal Smalley. Both have held public office before and run against each other in elections for the past two decades.

Bannock, the manager of the Uptown Motel and Louie’s Bar and Restaurant in Kenai, served on the Kenai City Council for a decade from 1993–2003, on the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission from 1988–2003 and has held position with the state and borough. A lifelong resident of the peninsula, he previously ran against Smalley for Kenai City Council for a number of races, eventually serving alongside each other from 1993–1999, when Smalley was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives.

Smalley has served on one governmental body or another since 1988, with gaps between leaving the Legislature in 2001 and serving on the Kenai City Council again in 2007, joining the assembly from 2009–2014. Both men have served on a variety of organizations as well — Smalley on the Kenai Lions Club, the Kenai Elks and with Habitat for Humanity of the Central Peninsula, Bannock on the Challenger Learning Center’s charter board, with the Kenai Peninsula United Way and the board of the Kenai Peninsula Oilers Baseball Club.

The two have very different approaches to government, though. Bannock is campaigning with the sole focus on reducing the size of government and reducing borough expenditures amid the current economic downturn and deficit spending projected for fiscal year 2018. Throughout the campaign season, he has opposed raising taxes either through sales or property tax and has suggested reducing staff, combining departments, eliminating funding for the borough’s nondepartmentals and reviewing services to reduce costs.

“I’d like to think that my campaign is in tune with the voters, and that’s that we spend too much,” Bannock said.

He cited his experience in downsizing the borough’s spruce bark beetle mitigation program in 2009, when he moved much of the funding intended for personnel into programs and phased out most of the employees — “I was the first person I fired,” he said — and accelerated the program, eliminating much of the dead wood left after the peninsula’s massive spruce bark beetle infestation and providing free firewood for peninsula residents.

“Instead of six people (getting) livelihoods, hundreds and hundreds of people got firewood,” he said. “It was an orderly downsizing of government. “

Smalley, on the other end of the spectrum, has supported both reducing some spending and finding other sources of revenue to support the borough budget, particularly for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District — a retired teacher, he has often advocated for public education over the years. Going door to door, he said he’s been able to have good conversations with people about the budget situation and discuss solutions of whether to tax or cut.

“I think it’s good to have that conversation,” he said. “The other possibility that came up was to look at the potential of a mill rate increase, and it was a no vote by the assembly. I am for keeping the mill rate low, as low as we can keep that.”

From his experience in a variety of government bodies at the local and state level, Smalley said he would work with all the assembly members toward solutions for the borough, as his district is entirely within the city of Kenai and largely administered by city rather than borough services. It’s important to keep lines of communication and talk with people, he said.

“When you make your decision, it’s based on collaboration with your other assembly members,” he said. “… (city) council members are also a good vetting board for citizens to express concerns to.”

The two candidates don’t agree on any of the propositions on the ballot this year — neither will get to vote on Proposition 1, which asks voters whether commercial cannabis should be banned in the borough outside the cities, but both have offered opinions if they did get to vote and both said there is a lot of interest in the topic from constituents in the city of Kenai anyway. Smalley has said he would vote no, while Bannock has said he’d vote yes.

Bannock has said he’d vote on Proposition 2 as well, which would allow the borough to issue up to $5 million in bonds to pay for a replacement to the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system in the George A. Navarre Borough Administration Building in Soldotna. The prior administrations should have planned for it years before rather than ask residents to pay for it through bonds, he said at a forum hosted by the joint Kenai and Soldotna chambers of commerce Sept. 13. He also argues against the sales tax cap increase on Proposition 3, saying the borough should cut rather than tax more.

“The state is taking more revenue away from you,” he said. “The borough is asking for more revenue from you. The person in the middle is getting more revenue taken from you.”

Smalley has supported Proposition 2, saying it needs to be done to maintain the building. Proposition 3 will help supplement the borough’s projected $4 million deficit and would account for inflation over the years, as it hasn’t been adjusted since 1965, he said. The borough administration has projected that, adjusted for inflation, the sales tax cap would be more than $3,000 today.

“Inflation proofing put that at $3,500 today, so yes, it’s time to do it,” he said at the forum.

Voters in District 2 will get to choose their assembly candidate on Tuesday. Absentee and in-person voting is open now at the borough building in Soldotna, at the borough’s annex building in Homer and at the city halls in Homer, Kenai, Seward and Seldovia.

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

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