An item up for consideration before the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Tuesday sparked a debate about borough funding of non-profit organizations, the importance of habitat protection and if the borough has such powers.
At its Tuesday meeting, the assembly approved, 8-1, Ordinance 2011-19-24, appropriating $100,000 to the Kenai Watershed Forum for several restoration projects and culvert replacements at anadromous stream crossings. Assembly president Gary Knopp voted against the ordinance.
Assembly member Hal Smalley said the ordinance, since its introduction, had become something it isn't through public discussion.
"It is not an ordinance about funding a non-profit, it is an ordinance about enhancing salmon habitat," he said.
Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Watershed Forum, said the funds allocated by the assembly would be matched with $200,000 through his organization for a total of $300,000 worth of work. He also said that work would follow a public bid process.
"The reason the Watershed Forum is doing road construction work is that we have recognized nationally that culverts cause problems for juvenile fish, in particularly being able to migrate in and out of the streams and that's what we seek to fix," he said.
Kasilof resident George Pierce testified against the ordinance, adding he didn't think anyone thought the Watershed Forum does a "bad job in anything they do." The notion the borough is saving money isn't accurate because it is still spending $100,000, he argued.
"You keep giving money to every agency that pops up here," he said. "... If you want the Watershed Forum to do these projects, take it out of somebody else's budget. I don't want you taking it out of my tax money.
"If I want to give the Watershed Forum money, I'll give them money. But for you to take it out of our taxes and squander it all over and don't hold any of these agencies accountable, that's the problem."
Pierce cited October's ballot measures as an indication residents "voted to stop funding these departments."
"I'm going to ask you to honor the will of the people," he said.
Assembly member Linda Murphy disagreed with Pierce and said she would support the ordinance.
"That vote was not a referendum on whether or not to fund a non-profit, it had to do with a funding mechanism," she said. "Do we take that money from property taxes or do we designate a portion of our sales tax to funding those entities. ... It would be inappropriate for us to go to the voters and ask, 'How should we appropriate tax dollars?' We make that decision and you elect us to do that.
"I hope that will put that to bed," she said. "I'm tired of turning on Sound Off and hearing that we are ignoring the will of the voters because that was not the question that was asked."
Assembly member Mako Haggerty said he didn't see any link in the October vote and funding non-profits.
"What I do see is that the borough and the people that live here are going to get a project that is going to cost $300,000 and we're going to get it for $100,000," he said. "Boy, I could do that all day. Talk about bang for your buck."
Knopp said he couldn't support the ordinance for "completely different" reasons.
"I don't believe we were ever granted the powers by state statutes or the voters to fund habitat restoration," he said.
Knopp said the assembly however was remiss in not addressing that sooner and advocated for an ordinance outlining and allowing "fish enhancement."
The borough also discussed staffing levels at the Donald E. Gilman River Center to manage the effects the previously passed anadromous streams ordinance.
The assembly approved, 6-3, Ordinance 2011-19-57, which appropriated $44,883 to fund personnel, administrative, supplies and other costs associated with managing the additional 2,317 anadromous stream miles and stream banks the assembly protected in June last year.
That protection started at the beginning of this year, but the borough expects to phase in enforcement over several months as staffing adjusts to the work load.
The assembly discussed just how many employees and what types of positions would be needed to manage the extra work effectively and how fast implementation would take.
Knopp said he wanted to slow down, and let borough Mayor Mike Navarre's administration do a "full evaluation" of the anadromous streams ordinance and its implementation.
"In a sense I think we don't even realize the magnitude of what we bit off on that and I wish we would stop, step back, and take a look at that and take it in smaller increments," he said.
Assembly member Brent Johnson said the borough could only do so much with the assets it has.
"We're appropriating some money that is going to be able to address for sure the most important things that are going on over there," he said. "Some of the smaller things they can't get covered, if they can't get it covered, that's the way it goes."
Johnson likened the situation to getting a foot in the door.
"We are going to find out how this works and if it doesn't work good, we are certainly not going to spend ourselves into debt and I am right there with (assembly member) Ray (Tauriainen) when he is concerned about how much money we spend," Johnson said. "I am going to be watching that real closely. But as long as this is going to work, I think we should move forward with it. We've gotten this far."
The assembly also approved Resolution 2012-001, which outlined the borough's capital project priorities it would seek funding for from the state this year.
Instead of ranking the projects, the borough placed six projects into two funding tiers.
The higher priority tier includes funding a gas pipeline extension from Anchor Point to Homer to the tune of $10 million.
Also included in the first tier are:
* $5.1 million for repair of running the tracks at Kenai, Soldotna and Homer High Schools and other field and athletic facility improvements
* $2 million for hazardous tree removal adjacent to utility easements
* $2.6 million for security cameras on borough-owned buildings
The second tier includes:
* $4.5 million to replace heating and air controls in the borough building and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District administration buildings
* $1.5 million for an equipment maintenance building at the Central Peninsula Landfill
Brian Smith can be reached at email@example.com.