Q&A: Bluff project, budget among priorities for Kenai council candidates

  • Thursday, September 28, 2017 9:31am
  • Opinion

Henry Knackstedt, Bob McIntosh and Tim Navarre are running to fill two seats on the Kenai City Council.

1. Describe you vision for future development in the city of Kenai.

Henry Knackstedt: My primary goal is and has been the bluff stabilization project which will protect the Kenai Senior Center/Vintage Pointe, and allow for development of Millennium Park and other private investments near the original city center. I promote the idea of increased investment near Old Town, with consideration of improved pedestrian and bicycle routes.The Kenai Airport is the major financial engine for our city, so wise development of the airport lands within the perimeter fence in accordance with the Airport Master Plan will help assure prosperity of the airport. I would like to see improved access to and promotion of the north and south beaches,which make our community unique.

Bob McIntosh: Future decided by the citizens through neighborhood community groups. A city that looks rural where the businesses blend in with the surrounding area. A government accessible to all citizens.

A community area, possibly along the bluff with trails and areas for small shops, picnic areas, some camping, access to the beach, parking, outdoor event area. It should be spread out and not all crumbed into one small area, but overall a rural, peaceful stretch along the bluff.

With the airport an economic asset in the middle of town could we capitalize on it by developing a way to bring people here, maybe from other parts of the state or even out of state with a convention center. This combined with the community area along the bluff could attract visitors without having a lot of vehicular traffic.

The community area along the bluff and the convention center would be funded by the private sector, not city government. The local government will have to provide basic services and provide licensing and permits and such, but there would be taxes and fees to cover these additional expenses.

Tim Navarre: I would like to see a city that celebrates its history by continuing to protect and restore its old buildings while working with developers to build a community hall or convention center, finding new businesses to remodel and opening a number of our under-used and vacant buildings in the center of town, so that we can continue to grow and attract new business to Kenai. I also see us collaborating with our sister city, Soldotna, to identify ideas and opportunities that we can work on together to bring our communities closer rather than divide us. Lastly, I see a completed bluff project that protects our senior center, housing and other city assets as well as private property owners with new development happening all along the bluff.

2. What, if anything, would you change in the city’s budget?

Knackstedt: When reviewing a budget, I think the first inclination for most is to find places to reduce funding or expenditures; however, after three budget cycles as a council member, it is clear to me that our city works smart and within its budget. I am very pleased with our department heads and the City Manager, who have prepared very good budgets with little fat. Council, along with the Finance Director, has developed several specific funds, such as the Equipment Replacement Fund, to help smooth out expected and unexpected expenditures. I don’t have specific changes to the current city’s budget; however, I am very critical of budget amendments during the fiscal year.

McIntosh: I would have more citizen involvement early in the budget process.

We should have a fund. Similar to the equipment replacement fund for maintaining and upgrading assets. This would prevent maintenance items or equipment replacement from being funded by bonds as other municipalities are doing.

Tax and spending caps. Any new taxes, tax rate increases, and changes in tax and spending caps approved by the voters

Navarre: The City does a good job of putting together a budget that takes care of all the basic needs required to maintain city functions and services for its residents. I would like future budgets to have more funds set aside for projects that partner with community groups to enhance our city and improve our quality of life (ie: dog park, art projects, community theater etc.).

3. How would you improve community engagement with the city council?

Knackstedt: During my three years on Council, there have been a number of items implemented to improve community engagement. These include a new and ever improving city website, a Facebook page to inform the public about all upcoming council and commission meetings, webcams of the dip-net fishery, improved sound system at council chambers, promotion of Coffee with the Mayor, expanding partnership with the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center and Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District, and as always, frequent work sessions to provide informal opportunity for the public to hear and engage with the council on involved issues.

McIntosh: Councilors must be available and responsive to the public – not just say they will beduring the elections. This would include returning phone calls and emails from everyone and anyone, not just their select group or individuals. They must communicate with the public, and communication is a two way street.

Use of technology. Members of the city council should be communicating on a regular basis with the public. This could be on the city’s facebook page and neighborhood facebook pages. They should go where the people are, not just expect the people to come to them a couple times a month for three minutes.

Go to where the people are. Don’t wait for them to come to the council. Councilors should go to Community and neighborhood meetings and mingle with citizens on their terms, not the councilors.This would include things like Church groups, neighborhood watch meetings, any time community or neighborhood people get together.

Navarre: Communication with the residents is key to good public policy. One way to better engage the public is to have more work sessions on difference topics. Work sessions are less formal than regular Council meetings and allow more back and forth questions and answers.

4. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Kenai in the next three years?

Knackstedt: Though the City of Kenai is currently in great financial shape due to excellent management, state grants are dwindling and we will need to start reaching into our fund balance for big ticket items such as the sewer treatment plant upgrades, the bluff stabilization project, insurance increases, and aging or undersized water/sewer utilities. Preparing a five-year Capital Plan now for these expenditures will assure that funds are available when we need them. To address this concern, Council recently adopted a fund balance policy which requires the City Manager to project three years into the future to assure that the fund balance remains within acceptable upper and lower bounds. I will do everything I can to keep spending in check, so that we can meet our financial needs and obligations.

McIntosh: Keeping crime under control. This is something not talked about very much. Let’s do something about it before it becomes a big and expensive problem. This would save money in the future. Support Neighborhood Watch, Crime Stoppers. Provide resources on the city’s website and facebook page. Members of the city council should work with neighborhoods to for Neighborhood Watch groups and other of crime awareness and prevention programs. This should be personal, boots on the ground, involvement, not throwing government money at it.

Developing ways of doing government that allow any citizen the level of access they want. Develop one or more citizens group, maybe neighborhood oriented. These groups would be formed by the citizens, not the council. Members of these groups would be chosen by citizens not the council. The council will listen to them especially when something effects that neighborhood.

Some of the things these groups would be determined by the citizens. This might include having input into the early stages of budget development. They could annually review the Comprehensive plan and recommending changes. They would be a point of communication between the citizens and the council.

Navarre: Balancing the City’s budget without raising property taxes. With all of the State cuts to local governments this will be a challenge. Also, finalizing the bluff erosion project with the Corps of Engineers and securing the necessary matching funds in the federal budget to begin the project no later than spring 2019.

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