Polls close Oct. 6 in the Kenai City Council election, in which two council members will be elected from three candidates — incumbent Bob Molloy, James Glendening and Mike Boyle — to serve a three-year term. The top two vote getters will take the seats.
Molloy, an attorney and co-owner with his wife Kristin Schmidt of the law firm Molloy and Schmidt, has served on the council since 2005. Boyle, a former Kenai Central High School shop teacher and current education coordinator at Wildwood Correctional Complex, also entered the council in 2005, but failed to be re-elected in the 2014 election. Glendening, retired from the oil industry and a former owner of a clothing store in Kenai, currently sits on both the City of Kenai and Kenai Peninsula Borough planning and zoning commissions. The candidates expressed their views on some issues facing the city.
Kenai has ongoing capital projects that include maintenance or renovation of aging buildings such as the Kenai Senior Center and the wastewater treatment plant. With a reduced state budget making grants for municipal projects less likely, Kenai may have to look elsewhere for funding for improvement and maintenance.
Molloy said that for smaller and more localized capital projects, such as fixing drainage problems in residential subdivisions, the cost could be shared with homeowners.
“One thing that would be best is a local improvement district, which is something we’ve done for road paving,” Molloy said. “(It) is basically partnering with a neighborhood. If there’s more than half of the people in the neighborhood who’d like to do that, it shares the cost with the city paying half the cost and homeowners paying a share of the other 50 percent. That may be something to look at for some of these improvements for infrastructure that we need to do but we aren’t going to able to rely on state funding to get grants for.”
For other funding, Molloy said Kenai is being helped by business growth.
“In the last year we had a growth in sales tax,” Molloy said. “That’s because we continue to have a good business climate in Kenai. I think a continuing growth in sales tax is something that will help in the budget next year.”
Glendening said he saw no need for large amounts of new funding in the near future.
“As I understood it, locally, we are good through this fiscal year, and in the spring of the year we’ll know more about what’s facing us,” Glendening said. “We’ll know more about the AK LNG. … We’ll know more about the oil and gas development down by Anchor Point, what economic activity that will bring us. And I think that into the foreseeable future, we’ll be OK.”
Boyle said relying on state funding for infrastructure projects will not solve problems.
“To put off maintenance because we’re waiting for someone else to pay our bill isn’t a good idea,” Boyle said. “We need to look within our own revenue source and figure out what we need to do, and pay for it within our own means.”
Boyle also agreed that increased revenue isn’t urgent.
“We’re certainly not anywhere near a crisis mode,” Boyle said. “I realize things differ with the price of oil in our state, and that’s at all levels. We shouldn’t be worried. We should be attentive, but not in panic mode.”
City council members have said that this year’s personal-use fishery was less chaotic than past fisheries. When asked if there were aspects of the fishery that Kenai should pressure the state to change, Boyle said the question was not a very realistic one.
“It’s kind of one those things where, if you’re really going to go into a discussion on that, are you really discussing anything more than rhetoric?” Boyle said. “The state’s going to do what they’re going to do. … I don’t really see that the city is going to get the state to regulate it like they want to do.”
Glendening also said the possibility of changing the fishery on a state level was unlikely.
“It’s a hard one to get your arms around,” Glendening said. “But what I’d like to see, is maybe the state, as they did in the past, provide a little more enforcement, a little more oversight, for the actual fishing rules. … Watch that a little bit closer.”
Molloy, however, said the state should take action to protect the bank upriver of the beaches from increased dipnetting traffic.
“I think the number of users in the shore-based fishery has really expanded upriver to the Warren Ames Bridge in the past few years,” Molloy said. “The number has grown significantly. That’s causing damage to the wetlands because of all the traffic. Part of that land is owned by the state. And it’s the state that says where the dipnet is open. The state could look at either closing that area to shore-based fishery and just leave it to boats, and having the shore-based fishery on the beaches.”
Kenai leases city-owned land to business owners. An appraisal completed in April of the rates Kenai charges lessees for airport lots resulted in more than a 50 percent rent increase for some tenants. At the same time, some current and prospective business-owners have advocated for Kenai to allow them to purchase city land they currently lease.
Both Glendening and Molloy said the council’s decisions to lease or sell land should be made “on a case-by-case basis.” Glendening said he would not generally be in favor of selling leased land, saying it was “more of a business decision than a political one.”
“(The city council) is kind of like the board of directors for the chief executive officer, which is the city manager,” Glendening said. “So we establish generally policy, and my personal feeling is that we should not micromanage things. Having said that, we should do what we can to provide a policy that would harmonize, treat everybody the same under the checkerboard of leased property, sold property, available property, and the interests of the city and the airport. And the entrepreneurs who have invested their time and treasure with us.”
Molloy elaborated on the criteria he would use to decide on such a case.
“Primarily location, and then if a price could be negotiated where the purchase price is in part based on the stream of revenue that the city would have if the property’s leased,” Molloy said. “…I think we should get a reasonable deal for the city. So we need to look at what is the revenue loss over a period of time, and factor that into what the price should be.”
Boyle is opposed city land sales, he said.
“I’ve not been a proponent of selling city land,” Boyle said. “I favor long-term leases that are reasonable so a person can afford it, and long enough that the lease will out-survive the person. So a person can feel confident that as long as they want to do business there, and as long as they are willing to abide by the rules of the lease, then they won’t have to worry about other rules that will remove them from their parcel.”
The Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission has discussed marijuana operations in Kenai, most recently in a worksession on September 22. Glendening, who participated in those discussions as a member of the commission, again referred to micromanagement, this time with regard to Kenai getting ahead of the state regulations that are scheduled to be finalized on Nov. 24.
“As a city council member, again, I would be reluctant to micromanage,” Glendening said. “Even if I was elected today, there’s still months to go, weeks to go in the process, and we have to hear from all the people involved.”
Molloy also said the city action should wait on state regulations.
“I think that when the state’s done with their regulations, we can look at issues like the distance from churches and schools and whether the state regulation is sufficient for the city of Kenai, or whether we want something stricter,” Molloy said.
Molloy said the city will be able to decide on set-backs and zoning for marijuana establishments, issues that have already been discussed in Planning and Zoning meetings.
“Personally, I don’t think there should be any commercial marijuana (establishments… in zoning districts with neighborhoods,” Molloy said. “Commercial marijuana should be in industrial zones and commercial zones. But not in nieghboorhoods.”
Boyle said a template exists for marijuana regulation.
“I’m definitely not in favor of setting up a stricter law than what the state does,” Boyle said. “And I already think there’s an infrastructure already in place, as far as regulation of marijuana, and that’s in the liquor industry. We regulate liquor, and I don’t see that this is going to be a whole lot different.”
Reach Ben Boettger at email@example.com.