In the race for Kenai City Council this year, two seats are up for election, and three candidates are running: Current city council members Tim Navarre and Henry Knackstedt, and Kenai resident Teea Winger. The candidates spoke with the Clarion ahead of the Oct. 6 election to discuss their campaign. Navarre’s interview took place on Sept. 14 and has been edited for length and clarity. Interviews with Knackstedt and Winger will run in future editions of the Clarion.
Why did you decide to run for reelection?
Navarre: “A combination of reasons. People have asked me to run again, and also one of the big projects that the city has been working on for 30-plus years is the bluff erosion project, and in the last nine years I’ve served on the city council I’ve moved that ahead, I’ve helped been a part of it.”
Navarre said that he’s excited about seeing the project to completion, and being a continued part of that process is his biggest reason for wanting serve another term.
“Maybe it’s a good time after that to take my leave and let somebody else have a shot at it, but I’ve been keeping taxes down and working on this project for a long time,” Navarre said.
What skills or qualifications do you bring to the table as a city council member?
Navarre: “Well, not only my business knowledge and understanding of the business community, but I make sure that we have the attitude in the city that we’re open for business, and to continue to create more jobs and more opportunity so that the young adults that are graduating from high school or college in our communities can live and raise a family right here in Kenai.”
What would be your biggest priority for the city council going into 2021?
Navarre: “The bluff erosion, without a doubt. But at the same time, this virus or health emergency that everybody’s dealing with in the state and in our city.”
Navarre noted the progress that the city has made on making land owned by the City of Kenai more available for residents to purchase and the financial relief that the city has distributed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but reiterated the importance of moving forward with the bluff erosion project in 2021.
How do you feel the city has handled its response to the ongoing pandemic?
Navarre: “We have shown leadership, from the administration and the council. We got money into small businesses and nonprofits’ hands that were greatly impacted with the virus. With that being said, I’m happy that we’ve got a second set of funds we got from the borough, and now we’re going back out to help small businesses again.”
The City of Kenai was one of the first municipalities in the state to set up a grant program for small businesses and nonprofits using the CARES Act funds that they received from the federal government.
Do you think that anything about the city’s pandemic response should be changed as we head into the winter?
Navarre: “We’re trying to fill in any gaps or missing relief that could help our community in a number of different ways.”
Another grant program was recently launched by the City of Kenai that offers up to $1,200 a month in rent and mortgage relief through the rest of the year for Kenai residents that have experienced a loss of household income due to the pandemic, and Navarre was supportive of that program as well as additional assistance for local nonprofits.
“They have a huge impact in keeping our residents of the City of Kenai entertained, or fed, or healthy, or any number of things. So I can only thank them for being a part of our community, and we didn’t forget them in this virus help.”
What are some of your biggest concerns for the city going into 2021, and do you have any plans to address those concerns?
Navarre: “The biggest hurdle we have in front of us is we’re still going to have to raise some more funds when the bluff erosion project’s final costs come in.”
The city received $5 million grant from the state for the project, and the city is still sitting on a $2 million bond that was approved by voters, but current projections estimate the project’s overall cost at around $30 million. The city is obligated to pay 30%, which means about $10 million that Kenai will have to pay to get the project constructed.
Navarre also said that, while there were initial concerns about the city losing significant sales tax revenue this year due to the pandemic, the numbers appear to show otherwise.
“It appears the City of Kenai, for whatever reason, has actually shown a slight increase in our sales tax dollars,” Navarre said. “So we’re no longer projecting a loss, and that’s a positive as far as closing the gap. The last thing you want to do coming out of this pandemic is to raise taxes across the board. The city has always prepared itself with a fund balance so that it can handle some of the impact. So far we’ve been able to do that, and I’m optimistic that we’ll be successful in keeping taxes low still providing services to the residents that they expect.”
Why should voters choose you as one of their city council members this year?
Navarre: “I’ve been in the community all my life. I wasn’t born here but I was brought by my parents when I was 3 years old in 1957 and have been here ever since. I have a young child that I’m raising that I acquired as a foster child, and now I have him full time. I came into his life when he was 4 and now he’s gonna be 10 in November, and with the virus I’ve been educating him at home. He’s doing terrific, and I’m making a difference in his life, and I’m looking at my service in a different light than I used to. I’ve always cared about education and kids and programs that help people in need in our community. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses, and I think I do bring that strength of both business sense and public service to the council.”