Kenai City Council candidates weigh in on issues

  • Monday, September 28, 2015 9:07pm
  • Opinion

1. Is there something in the city’s budget you would like to see changed?

Mike Boyle: I have no earthshaking comments to make about the budget, however, there are some issues that give me concern.

There seems to be a recent increase in “ad hoc” spending on parks. I support the concept of parks and believe that they add to the quality of life in Kenai, however, I think we need a plan that looks at the park system as a whole, not random spending on pet projects of one individual or another. During my time on the Council $20,000 was designated for a study to address parks in the city and a location for a city park. No such study came back to the Council, yet an increasing amount of funds are being spent to develop new parks and further develop some specific parks in a rather hodge-podge fashion.

The water treatment plant is another concern. While there may be grants and other forms of funding that could save the expense of upgrading and maintaining that would have to come from the general fund, waiting too long could lead to even more expensive results. My concerns are that if we don’t address these issues now they will become even greater and more expensive later. This issue needs to be addressed immediately.

Finally, the current practice of annually raising rents on senior housing at Vintage Point is unnecessary and a hardship for those tenants on a fixed income. This practice should to be ceased and any increases should be based on a common sense approach based on real expenses and needs.

Jim Glendening: The city general fund budget for fiscal year 2015 is $15,544,059, which is a decrease from fiscal year 2014. The greatest increase in most governmental agencies budget are employee expenses. The city has done a tremendous job of maintaining quality services, providing stable benefits for the employee and continuing to maintain a low mill rate for our residents.

The special use funds, such as the Capital Projects, Personal Use Fishery, and Equipment Replacement funds could be better defined. They should explain how projects are prioritized.

Some of our city facilities are aging and in need of major renovations, our city roads (in many subdivisions) are in need of upgrades. I would like to have council entertain funding to address these issues. With the State of Alaska fiscal concerns some of these “fix-it” items will most likely fall on our citizens instead of looking to the state for funding.

Bob Molloy: We should revisit our current policy that senior rents have to cover all major repair and replacement costs at Vintage Point, our City-owned senior independent living facility, so we can keep senior rents affordable and allow seniors to stay in our community with their families, and to benefit from our senior programs. I did not support the 2014, 2015 and 2016 rent increases for Vintage Pointe in the City budget. When the City received State funding to build this facility, the City agreed to pay for maintenance and operating costs, but there was no mandate that senior rents had to pay for costs of major repair and replacement at the facility. There is great value to Kenai, not easily quantifiable in dollars, in providing senior housing which allows our seniors to age in place.

2. How do you feel the city is doing in managing the dipnet fishery? What concerns still need to be addressed?

Boyle: Over the years the City has done a good job in predicting and identifying issues of the dipnet fishery and reacting to minimize problems. The only recent exception would be this year’s back up of traffic on the Spur Highway. One which can be easily remedied.

The South Beach has recently created some issues. Access has been a problem in the more recent years. While I support a properly installed road for beach access, I question the actions of the City in purchasing a residential home in order to obtain other properties for the purpose a road.

Glendening: The city is doing a very good job of management, considering the difficulty the state fishery has delivered into our community.

Over the years, the administration and council has listened to the residents and put so many of their suggestions into place. In October a report is generated from each city department tasked with delivery of services. The report reflects the positives, negatives, and solutions to the cities management responsibilities. On peak fishery days, over 15,000 Alaskan residents use the city access points to the river.

A new concern, this season, was burning of wood pallets, once burned they leave nails and metal fasteners that are not disposed of properly and end up in the sand.

The state of Alaska granted the city funding to build a new access road on the south side of the river. The new access will protect the neighborhood, wetlands and critical habitat areas.

Molloy: The State doesn’t limit the number of dip net permits and the number of users increases every year. City employees have done an excellent job implementing Council’s directions and Administration’s plan for dipnet fishery management while I’ve been a Council member. In 2015, I received only one complaint from the public (about dual fee shacks on S. Spruce; the issue was resolved), a record low. Our efforts have been primarily directed at North and South Beaches, and Kenai River itself. Meanwhile, the number of shore-based fishery users has expanded upriver to the Warren Ames Bridge, which is causing damages to our wetlands and to private property. Major concerns to be addressed for 2016-2017 seasons are construction of south beach access road on uplands, improved management of south beach user’s access, improved toilet facilities for south beach, and improved management of access for upriver shore-based fishery users to reduce property damage.

3. What, if anything, would you like to see changed as the city continues to work on a comprehensive plan?

Boyle: Protection of residential neighborhoods

Citizen input throughout the process

Development of a planned small business economic area

Restraint by Administration and certain legislators from micromanaging the process and steering it toward a predetermined end.

Glendening: First, our residents need to understand what a plan includes. It is a process that determines future community goals and future community development. It will include public policy of transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, senior services, public facilities, medical facilities and future housing. The 2003 plan we currently use, is outdated and we need to make revisions that will reflect the possibility of the Alaska LNG facility being located in our area.

Our residents, business people and community leaders will need to identify issues, stating goals, collecting data, preparing the plan and its implementation. The city is fortunate to have worked on a plan three years ago, the community spent over $125,000 to develop the document. It is again time to listen and develop the newer vision our community has for developing the business district, neighborhoods, airport, harbor, parks, and protecting the historical sites of Kenai.

Molloy: The City Council and Planning & Zoning Commission must keep in mind the clear message of the voters in 2013 that our residents do not want strip development along the length of all of the major roads in Kenai, but want a city center and commercial hubs.

The 2012-2013 comprehensive plan process began well with Town Hall Meetings, and there were a lot of meetings, but many members of the public dropped out because they were frustrated with the P&Z Commission’s public participation process, which kept changing. The Council needs to give better direction to City Administration and Commissions about the timing and procedures for public involvement, so that they are clear, consistent and open. The City should allow the professional planning consultants greater autonomy and leadership in the public meetings. Council should determine better ways to involve the public after the P&Z Commission forwards the draft plan to Council.

4. What approach should the city take to regulating marijuana?

Boyle: A statewide vote of the people has determined that marijuana will be a legal substance.

I think it is premature for the City to be drafting legislation prior to the State Legislature concluding its business on the issue. I also think it would be improper for the Council to act in a manner contrary to how the people have voted.

There are communities that have already dealt with this issue. We can gain from their experience as we establish a system that will work for our own community. We should be finding out what has worked and use that as a guide for our own plan.

Glendening: The administration, planning and zoning commission and council are currently developing regulations that will regulate the uses of marijuana in our community. During each process, the public will be allowed opportunity to express their suggestions, agreement or opposition to proposed regulation.

The greatest approach to determining the footprint the industry will have in Kenai is to listen to our residents. Kenai is their community and it is the responsibility of the council to listen and establish regulations that reflect their vision for a community they wish to live in.

Molloy: The State will likely issue regulations for marijuana businesses that are stricter than for businesses selling alcohol. The City should continue its slow and deliberate approach, including opportunities for public comment. Because the City has zoning, it is easier for Kenai to regulate than the Borough. The Council agreed with my recommendation that the P&Z Commission review the City’s land use table to see if definitions and zoning were adequate for the various types of marijuana businesses. Public comment will be heard at Commission work sessions and meetings, and at Council. I have advocated keeping incompatible land uses out of neighborhoods in residential zones, such as in the work I did for MAPS and 3WS neighborhoods; and believe that marijuana businesses should be limited to commercial and industrial zones.

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