1. Describe the biggest issue(s) facing Kenai. What should the council do to address them?
Ryan Marquis: The voices of those affected by fishery issues have grown louder over the years. The state’s dipnet fishery draws more people to our sensitive Kenai beaches each year, pushing the City’s resources to its limits. Your Council needs to continue providing the resources and tools the City needs to respond proactively.
Decisions made by the state and an appointed Board of Fish had disastrous consequences for the hundreds of setnetters that call Kenai home and invest in our economy. While fishery decisions are outside of the City’s control, we can act to help give a voice to those commercial-fishing men and women that have spent decades supporting this community. The Council has responded by helping bring those voices to the Governor. The City will also be facilitating a “Salmon Summit” in the future, thanks to Council’s support of an idea sparked by Councilmember Brian Gabriel and the City Manager.
Bob Molloy: Long-term planning, including our comprehensive plan update “Imagine Kenai 2030.” How can the City: Promote growth by attracting other businesses to supplement existing businesses and diversify our economy? Stabilize zoning and the separation of incompatible land uses for the benefit of residential areas and businesses? Extend utility services to outlying areas in a cost effective way? Where will new residential areas and schools be located? Council needs to create opportunities for maximum public participation in reviewing and building on the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recommendations.
Short-term planning to solve the Dip Net Fishery garbage and fish waste problems. Council will hold work sessions and hearings, and needs to make policy decisions, such as: whether to continue to allow beach-side fish-cleaning and create a fish-waste removal-disposal system or ban beach-side fish cleaning; how to solve the garbage problem; and how to fund the additional resources that will be required.
James Rowell: I can’t say whether or not this one is the biggest but I feel strongly that tourism requires immediate attention. I would welcome the opportunity to organize a volunteer community action committee to discuss, choose, and plan events that would generate year ‘round revenue in our city. Some of these things could be as simple as a moose-chili cook off or others as grand as a local film festival. No matter what direction is selected, local native participation is a key element for success. I believe events such as this would generate what I like to term as “home-based tourism” with proper management and marketing some of these events could become large enough to attract visitors from other parts of the peninsula or even the state.
2. What, if anything, would you change about the city’s budget?
Marquis: The City’s budget is healthy, balanced, and responsible. City Manager Rick Koch and Finance Director Terry Eubank provide Council with a very well-written draft budget document each year. As a Council, we provide an open dialogue between ourselves, the city administration, and the public, making sure that we take as many factors into consideration before agreeing on a final budget. Through discussion, collaboration, and compromise, Kenai has a budget that supports the City’s functions while still boasting itself as one of the least-taxed areas on the Kenai Peninsula.
Molloy: The process to establish the City’s FY2013 budget again involved work sessions and public hearings, and I voted “Yes” to adopt this current budget. For next year’s budget, there will need to be additional review of potential cost savings as well as revenues so we can meet Kenai’s needs for additional services while maintaining our low property tax rate at 3.85 mills and sales tax rate at 3%. The private development of two assisted living projects and the Dena’ina Health & Wellness Center may require additional Firefighters/EMTs. Solutions to Dip Net Fishery problems will require additional funding for Public Safety, Public Works, Parks and Recreation, Finance and Legal Departments. Revenues need to cover these additional expenditures without an increase in taxes.
Rowell: The best answer would be a large surplus; but all joking aside the City of Kenai is fiscally sound. I recently met with both the city manager and the city finance director; when our meeting concluded I possessed a great sense of pride for Kenai knowing how well it has been and is being run. I would like to see a slightly larger amount go towards debt service and to follow my previous answer I would like to see more dollars allocated to enhance community events. Not to say the city does not already spend a significant amount on projects which are well received by and well attended by our residents, however the opportunity to encourage year ‘round revenue still exists and should be adequately explored.
3. As the city updates its comprehensive plan what items do you think should be priorities?
Marquis: The priorities that need to be reflected in our updated comprehensive plan are those that have been, and will continue to be, generated by the public. The updating of a city’s comprehensive plan offers a fantastic opportunity to connect the government with its residents and for policymakers to revise their own understanding of what direction the public wants to see their city move. A public review draft of the plan is available on the City’s website, and an Open House is scheduled for October 5, from 4:00pm to 8:00pm, at the Kenai Senior Center. This will be an excellent opportunity to acquaint yourself with the plan’s process thus far. There will also be a number of additional meetings held to gather public input, both by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Kenai City Council.
Molloy: I’d like the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recommended plan to first be a Council discussion item rather than immediately being put to Council vote. I’d like Council to use the town hall meeting process and work sessions to allow for maximum public participation in reviewing and building on the Commission’s recommendations. There are major changes proposed in the Commission’s plan, and both the Council and the public need adequate time to consider and act on those proposals. For example, Chapter 5: Land Use Plan proposes that most properties on the Kenai Spur Highway and Beaver Loop Road be re-zoned to Mixed Use or some other form of commercial zoning where not already zoned Commercial or Industrial. Such changes could dramatically affect property owners in the existing zones. The public likely will have additional objectives and strategies for the plan goals, such as strategies for management of the Dip Net Fishery.
Rowell: Being a part of the Planning & Zoning Commission has allowed me the wonderful opportunity to work closely with a group of people whose love and passion for this city and its future is certainly obvious. The purpose of the City’s Comp Plan is to give its residents an overview of the direction the city is going as well as from where it has come. I feel and have felt from the beginning, it could also be utilized as an instrument to market our city to various companies or industries that may favorably view Kenai as a possible location for expansion. The Comp Plan in its current state is a well devised and well assembled product; sufficient attention is given to all of its parts. With regards to prioritizing any portion over another, I feel as if the Plan speaks well for itself as is.
4. Is the city council doing a good job of listening to and addressing concerns of residents?
Marquis: During the past three years I’ve served on the Council, we have worked to create an environment that welcomes the concerns of our residents and have worked hard to find solutions to ease those concerns. I believe residents are starting to realize this more and more. There’s nothing more satisfying to me in my job as a councilmember in Kenai, than having my constituents see their concerns addressed. Whether you want to see the City make the park in your neighborhood a safer place for your children to play or you’re a beekeeper looking for some regulatory guidance in the City’s code, your Council is always open to looking at, and helping to find solutions for, your concerns. My door and ears are always open.
Molloy: Since being elected, I have worked to make Council’s process more open and accountable to residents, by:
— Sponsoring webcasting of meetings, so that residents can view meetings live or on demand;
— Sponsoring improvements to meeting procedures, requiring that meeting packets be available to the public earlier and online, and giving the public the right to scheduled comment;
— Sponsoring the design of a new Town Hall Meeting process.
I think that Council can do a good job of considering residents’ input, as shown by our approval of changes in the land use table requested by residents, support of diversified harvest opportunities in Cook Inlet, adoption of tax credits instead of regulatory mandates, and “No” vote on major rent increases for senior residents of Vintage Pointe. In campaigning, I have heard residents express that Council needs improvement. I would like more town hall meetings and more inclusive work sessions.
Rowell: We are fortunate to have a significant number of residents who take an active role in participating in our local government; and sadly an even greater number that do not. The council offers numerous opportunities for the citizens of Kenai to attend meetings and address the council, the process is simple and un-cumbersome. Our present council makes great efforts to listen to and attempt to solve the issues brought before them. My short answer, yes.