About the only thing separating the six Kenai Borough Assembly candidates during Wednesday’s forum was their views on the recently passed Anadromous Streams Ordinance — two incumbents stuck by their yes votes while the four others felt it to be an overreaching government intrusion.
During the lunchtime question and answer session, held at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor’s Center and jointly sponsored by the Kenai and Soldotna Chambers of Commerce, most of the candidates professed a desire to return the Kenai Peninsula to an idealized past life filled with fishing, hunting and no regulation on what a person can do with their personal property while also hoping for new growth in the oil and gas industry.
Moderated by Merrill Sikorski, candidates were asked to describe the Peninsula as they want to see it in five and 50 years down the road; where they stand on Propositions 1 and 2 on the October ballot; their opinions on the streams ordinance and whether or not they would vote against their constituents if research showed the people to be wrong on an issue.
Running for the District 7 seat to represent the central area is Damon Yerly, Travis Swanson and incumbent Brent Johnson. Running for the District 4 seat to represent Soldotna is Dale Bagley and incumbent Linda Murphy. Looking to represent Nikiski is Wayne Ogle and Steve Chamberlain. Chamberlain did not attend the forum and has said he would avoid most public appearances and media during the campaign.
Swanson, who grew up on the Peninsula but lived in the Portland, Oregon area and the Puget Sound region before returning to the area, said that he would not like to see the Kenai Peninsula become like either place where personal liberties and property rights are trounced upon as he saw Down South. The government should not tell people what to do or how to live, he declared as a basis for his vision of the Peninsula in the future.
Swanson said he viewed the Assembly as service representing the people and as long as their wishes were not immoral or illegal he would vote for what they wanted.
Regarding Proposition 1, which seeks to increase the tax exemption for personal homes from $20,000 to $50,000 and is estimated to cut $1.3 million from the Borough’s general fund, Swanson said he supports anything that puts more money in people’s pockets as a “good step” to rein back government spending.
On the other hand, Swanson supports the Borough bonding out $22 million for school maintenance and a new artificial football field for Homer, though he disagrees with the state paying 70 percent of the tab and said in the long run schools should stop taking state and federal money.
Regarding the streams ordinance, Swanson said the problems with salmon runs on the Peninsula do not rest upon the private property owners. Saying the issue is more complex than property owners, Swanson said that he would have voted against.
Incumbent Brent Johnson said his vote in favor of the ordinance that governs a 50-foot buffer along salmon rearing waters was “necessary” and that he supported it from the beginning.
On the school bonds supported by Proposition 2, Johnson noted that the school district was already tapping into its reserve fund and that he supported the $22 million sought for repairs.
Johnson stepped away from other candidates on Proposition 1 saying yes the larger tax break would help “poor people” but the resulting funding shortfall for service areas such as Central Emergency Service, which faces a $350,000 cut, will lead to a tax shift with the affected service areas seeking an increase in their mill rates and drive the property taxes paid in those areas served up.
Regarding his votes with or against his constituency, Johnson said he would always “do what is right.”
Regarding the future, Johnson said he’d like to see the king salmon run in the Kenai return to its former glory and see more oil exploration and an oil pipeline at Falls Creek.
Damon Yerly echoed Swanson on his version of the future for the Borough saying that he didn’t want to see it go the way of California, Washington or Oregon where people have the water that falls on their roofs and have “no property rights.” He favors personal freedoms.
Regarding his votes, if elected, yearly said he would vote what the people want as long as it’s moral and legal.
On Proposition 2 Yerly said the schools are falling apart and with two children attending public school he favors the bonds as a way to pay for the repairs.
On the tax break offered with Proposition 1, Yerly said he supports it because the money would make a big difference to the people he knows.
“Leave it in the pockets of the people,” Yerly said. “They will spend it.”
On the streams ordinance Yearly summed up his thoughts by saying, “It’s bad legislation” taking property rights from people. Admitting that the king salmon run is indeed a problem, he said that the science behind the decision to govern the 50-foot buffer zones on private and public property was not local science.
Incumbent District 4 Assemblymember Linda Murphy said she continues to support the salmon ordinance and again discounted those that say law restricts lawn mowing and tree trimming.
Taking issue with Swanson’s characterization of the state paying 70 percent of school construction, Murphy said that state funding is not a “handout” but rather a constitutionally mandated support of education.
“It’s what we are due,” Murphy said.
Like most, Murphy supports Proposition 1 saying that the $1.3 million hit to the general fund can be “absorbed.” She went on to note that 43 percent of property tax bills were sent to out of state residents that would not be eligible for the break because the property is not their permanent residence.
On voting with or against her constituency, she said would vote for what is right. On the future of the Peninsula, Murphy too wants to see oil and gas exploration along with the return of the king salmon runs and the Peninsula to stay looking like it does today for the next 50 years.
Dale Bagley’s thoughts on the future of the Borough rest with it keeping its second-class status and not growing into the problems of big government, which come with first class status. He too would like to see oil and gas return to the days of yore saying that $1.2 billion have been spent on exploration makes him hopeful of finds.
Bagley said he would likely vote along with his constituents on issues before the assembly, but hope to take advantage of advisory votes too.
Proposition 1 provides a “big benefit” to property owners, said Bagley. He’s also O.K. with the shifting burden of payment to those in the service areas.
Bagley supports Proposition 2 and its proposed bonding of $22 million for school repairs and construction and feels that state paying for 70 percent of the tab is “great.”
On the salmon ordinance Bagley lines up with those against its passage saying that property owners are not part of the problem.
“I don’t believe that it’s something that should have been done,” he said.
Wayne Ogle said he spent the better part of a year fighting the salmon ordinance, which he totally opposed.
“I believe in stewardship,” Ogle said.
On his general support for the bonding of $22 million for school repairs in Proposition 2, Ogle said his issue the 70 percent of the total cost expected to be paid for by the state, which Murphy pointed out was part of a state constitutionally mandated support of education, rests with the fact that the state is not “mandated to have money.”
Proposition 1 will get Ogle’s vote because, he said, it is “always better to have more money stay in people’s pockets.” The impact on the budgets of service areas is “very minimal,” he added.
Ogle said he would listen to the “people” when it comes to his votes. Should he not agree with what his constituency calls for, Ogle said there was always the opportunity to “resign” rather than go against the people.
Reach Greg Skinner at firstname.lastname@example.org