Voters to decide Nikiski law enforcement issue

Voters will have another shot at taking steps to reduce crime in Nikiski when they head to the polls on Oct. 6.

Proposition 2 seeks to create a law enforcement service area following the same boundaries as the Nikiski Fire Service Area, including a section on the west side of the Cook Inlet. A yes vote on the proposition would also establish a service area board and the potential for Nikiski to have its own police agency.

Concerned residents got a similar proposition on the ballot back in 2004, but the measure was voted down. The journey to the new proposal began when what residents have called a “rash” of property crimes swept through the area in 2014, inspiring Nikiski residents to take action once again.

“We have two options before us,” said Ben Carpenter, a potential service area board member. “To do nothing and keep it as it is, the status quo, or to take charge… and create a service area.”

Carpenter chaired the Nikiski community action group created last year and tasked with researching realistic options to address crime in the unincorporated community. The group brought their findings before the Nikiski Community Council in January, after which the service area measure was introduced to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly by assembly member Wayne Ogle.

A mill levy no greater than 1.5 mils, or an extra $150 per $100,000 of assessed property per taxpayer in the service area, would be established in order to fund the law enforcement service area. The Seward Police Department staffs nine officers and operates with about $1.8 million annually, and has been cited by the action group in the past as a comparable agency.

One option that would have allowed Nikiski to have its own police agency without creating an additional tax is incorporation and becoming its own city. However, both Carpenter and Ogle said that route would not have been as timely.

“The two options have different timelines,” Ogle said. “The service area could be formed fairly quickly after the election if it passes. With the incorporation, that’s a very long process.”

The service area board created by the proposition would be made up of five individuals who would take office immediately following the measure’s passage. Those members would begin work on the service area by getting in touch with experienced law enforcement officials to research what it takes to set up a police agency, Carpenter said.

If the proposition passes, the board members would be faced with two main options: to establish Nikiski’s own police agency, or to contract protective services from nearby, existing agencies.

“At this time, I don’t favor one over the other. They both have advantages and disadvantages,” Carpenter said. “I believe that creating a brand new agency would be the most expensive way to go, and I also believe that creating a contract could be more inflexible.”

It is too early to say how nearby police agencies like the Kenai Police Department could be affected should their services be contracted out to Nikiski, said Kenai City Manager Rick Koch.

“It’s hard to guess without knowing what it is they would want,” he said. “The first step would be to come up with a scope of the services they desire or require.”

No matter which direction the potential board members would decide to go, their recommendation would still have to go by the Borough Assembly.

A service area was not the first idea members of the Nikiski community action group came up with to tackle the crime issue. Carpenter said the prospective board members first looked into the possibility of having more Alaska State Troopers assigned to Nikiski. After meeting with trooper representatives and learning about their budgetary restrictions, Carpenter said they determined it wasn’t going to happen.

Should the proposition fail at the polls, Carpenter said there isn’t really a suitable plan B. Residents from Nikiski have already grown closer and more conscious of their surroundings, going so far as to create several neighborhood watches. If the service area fails, the focus would turn to encouraging those groups to continue their efforts, Carpenter said.

“Even if it doesn’t go forward, we’ve seen a benefit from our community,” he said.

There will be an informational presentation about the potential service area from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday at the Nikiski Community Recreation Center.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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