Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dave Carey talked Tuesday about a variety of topics concerning the borough’s operations.
He spoke mostly of the borough¹s current efforts, but made particular note of two items. The mayor started his lunchtime presentation to the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce by talking about what he thought was perhaps the most “invisible” change the borough has made and ended with what he thought had been the most significant recent change that affected the whole area.
The later he said he saw first hand while sitting for lunch in Soldotna recently. He watched the interactions between a grandmother and grandson, who were eventually joined by the grandfather.
“This, to me, is the greatest improvement in the quality of life here on the Kenai Peninsula,” Carey said of the aging population of the Peninsula. “Our families, especially our elders, are able to stay in our communities and help raise their grandkids.” The mayor noted that when he was growing up in the area, he was often not able to be around his grandparents or older relatives.” Grandparents were visitors, or people you went to see, or they came to see you because of an important event,” he said. “So I am very aware that thanks to the awesome health care providers in this borough that many, many more of our elderly can stay with us.”
The most invisible change, he contends, is the work being done to make the borough run on less paper. Carey said the administration is pushing for the greater use of electronic forms and communication in its various boards, including the Borough Assembly and the borough’s various service area boards.
“Many of the things that are producing a huge amount of paper are going electronic,” he said. “We are very pleased. Not only will it reduce how much we are paying for paper, it will reduce how much we are throwing away.
“Because it will all be online, it should mean that there will be a much higher access to information as well as participation. Certainly, this borough, as it is ahead in so many different things, this is going to be one of the areas where we will continue to be a leader.”
Carey also gave an overview on borough finances — revenues and expenditures — over the last few years. He said property tax revenue, for the most part, has remained level at $31 million in 2008 and $30.9 million in 2012.
“That’s pretty close to the same,” he said. Total borough revenues have also followed a similar trend, increasing from just $66.4 million in 2008 to $68.7 million projected for this year. On the expenditure side, the Kenai Peninsula School District and general government services continue to top the borough’s list. School district spending saw the largest increase from the borough, from $41 million in 2008 to $46.6 million in 2012. Solid waste spending increased from $6 million to $8 million; and general government increased from $14.7 million to $16.7 million during the same time frame. Overall, spending has increased more since 2008 than revenues, growing from $62.2 million to $71.4 million.
Despite more spending, Carey said there was not a “huge growth” in borough government. He became frustrated after reading and hearing about the supposed growth of the area’s government that hasn’t taken place, he said. In fact, the number of full time borough employees serving has remained fairly level — currently there are 110, the same number working in 2002, Carey said.
The borough did, however, see increases in solid waste and emergency services positions through various requirements and voter initiatives during that time.
“I heard one person talk about how we doubled the number of borough employees in the last ten years,” he said. “No we haven’t.”
Carey also talked about the $65 million in grant revenue the borough received from 2008 through 2012. The mayor said he was particularly pleased with the $28.8 million that found its way into coffers for borough road maintenance.
“We have hundreds and hundreds of miles of roads in this borough and it’s an on-going issue and of course everyone wants their road improved,” he said.
The Spruce Bark Beetle Mitigation program, Carey pointed out, also has also received $19 million in revenue and has about $1.6 million left in allocations. That program, Carey said, has provided a “great deal of free firewood” to residents, as well as mitigating potential wildfire situations.
“We could use billions and not complete this big of an area, but we greatly appreciate the help from the federal government to allow us as much as we can to improve where people live,” he said.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.