1. What is the City doing well? What can be improved?
Bob Molloy: The City does well in managing its finances; in providing services such as police, fire and emergency services, airport, library, parks, recreation, senior housing and programs; and in short-term planning, such as road improvement districts.
The City can improve its long-term planning. We need community-supported plans for major repair and replacement of City infrastructure, recreation (facilities, parks and trails), City-owned lands, dip net fishery, and sustainable economic development. We need better coordination of existing plans, such coordinating the Comprehensive Plan with the Airport Master Plan.
The City can also improve its policy and decision-making processes. We should identify and remove barriers to public participation, and provide a wider variety of opportunities for public participation: earlier, wider notice to affected residents and businesses; more town hall meetings and interactive work sessions. We should be engaging with the public on City projects and policies well before Council voting night.
Pat Porter: The City is doing a great job of creating a firm, stable foundation, for the future. The property tax rate was decreased from 5 to 3.85 mills, while maintaining and increasing the levels of public services, such as public safety, library services, road maintenance, park improvements, pedestrian trail construction, improved water quality, and support for schools. We have also amended, the City’s investment strategies, the equipment replacement fund, and maintained healthy reserves in the City’s general, airport, senior center, and water & sewer funds.
I think there is room for improvements in all areas of government. This starts with the Council and the manner in which we work together and communicate with the public. It is incumbent upon all of us as public servants, the Mayor, Members of Council, city manager and all municipal employees to strive for more efficient delivery of public services.
2. What are the biggest issues facing the city?
Molloy: REBUILDING CONFIDENCE. Kenai residents and businesses feel that they don’t get notified early enough about City plans. They feel shut out by restrictive public meeting procedures. They feel the Council has disregarded their input on land use decisions and other policies. Local businesses feel some City regulations and purchasing procedures are unfair. If elected, I will work hard to address these concerns.
MAINTAINING A SUSTAINABLE BUDGET. As Kenai grows, demands for services increase. We have aging infrastructure to repair/replace and a need for new services and facilities. We have to maintain a sustainable budget to meet these needs, recognizing that state and federal funding will decrease. Policies that support sustainable development and business growth will increase revenues from taxes while enabling Kenai to maintain a low mill rate
COMPLETING NEEDED INFRASTRUCTURE such as bluff stabilization. As Mayor, I will go to Washington DC to get action on this project.
Porter: The City’s number one capital priority for the past 20 years has been a project to stop the erosion of the Kenai River bluff. Over the past six years the City has received grants and in-kind commitments which provide the full local share for the project, assuming the US Corp of Engineers will undertake the project. The Corps has already accomplished the preliminary design. We are closer to a project than ever and we are working diligently with our Congressional delegation to secure federal funding.
As with other employers, the cost of employee health care is a significant issue. In addition to normal increases in health insurance the federal Affordable Health care Act has resulted in 15%-40% annual increases in cost.
Of all issues facing the City, maintaining a high quality of life for our residents should always be the core issue for the Mayor and City Council.
3. What, if anything, would you like to change in the City’s budget?
Molloy: I did not support the $50 per month increase in rents at Vintage Pointe, our City-owned senior independent living facility in the FY 2014 budget. There is great value to Kenai, not easily quantifiable in dollars, in providing a local place for our seniors to live where they can age gracefully and be involved with their families in our community, while paying reasonable rents. When the City received State funding to build this facility, the City agreed to pay for maintenance and operating costs, but there was no mandate that senior rents had to pay for costs of major repair and replacement at the facility. We should revisit our policy that senior rents have to cover major repair and replacement costs, so we can keep senior rents affordable and allow seniors to stay in our community.
Porter: Kenai’s annual City budget is drafted by the administration and then discussed and compromise reached by the seven members on the City Council. It is a good process, which in my opinion has resulted in reasonable budgets. Similar to the personal budgets of our citizens, the City’s budget is a balance between income and expense, unlike personal budgets the City has the power to tax through property tax and sales tax. I do not take lightly that the citizens of Kenai entrust the Mayor and Council with that significant responsibility.
Each of us on the Council have specific knowledge and particular interests, I am very interested in the appearance of, and how welcome our community and neighborhoods appear to our residents and visitors. As a result I tend to want additional funding in our budget for quality roadways, landscaping, and improvements to public facilities, such as the Kenai Recreation Center.
4. Where do you see the city headed in the next 10 years?
Molloy: LONG TERM PLANNING. The City needs to develop a long term, community-supported plan for Kenai’s future that will lead to sustainable growth and economic development, and improved quality of life for residents.
CENTRAL KENAI DEVELOPMENT. Once the City completes Bluff Stabilization, we can further develop the FAA property (“Millenium Square”). This can be tied to a central Kenai redevelopment plan, so that a mix of new residences and businesses can locate there. The City can work to attract more health care and education businesses to central Kenai. On Marathon Road, the City’s Industrial Park will be completed and attract new businesses, and possibly relocate existing industries there.
QUALITY OF LIFE. The City can develop more parks, a connecting trail system and additional bike paths, making Kenai pedestrian and bike-friendly. The City can develop better buffer zones separating residential neighborhoods from heavy traffic areas and commercial uses such as the airport.
Porter: Generally, I see the City of Kenai headed in the same positive direction as today. We are a vibrant community that recognizes the importance of the quality of life for our residents. The following is some of what I see in my crystal ball:
■ Redevelopment of Old Town Kenai
■ Construction of a bluff erosion control structure resulting in an increase in property values and the construction of high-end residential and retail
■ A convention center, sponsored through an innovative private/public process
■ A growing industrial/commercial park at the City Airport
■ Continued increase in oil & gas production in Cook Inlet and the construction of a natural gas pipeline to the Kenai Peninsula