Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor John Williams kicked off his state of the borough address at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon by pointing out that the borough's economy isn't only fueled by taxes.
"Very few people understand how many millions of dollars are brought in by grants," he said to chamber members on Wednesday. "This isn't just a government of tax payers."
Williams' address recapped the outcome of a lawsuit brought against the borough by the Alliance for Concerned Taxpayers (ACT) and touched on other potential lawsuits ACT could bring forth. Williams outlined the budget process for the 2009 fiscal year and gave chamber members an update on expansion projects at South Peninsula Hospital in Homer and Central Peninsula Hospital. He also talked about what the borough expects from the state legislature in terms of funding for school programs, roads, emergency equipment and hospital projects and he addressed other topics like the potential listing of Cook Inlet's beluga whales as an endangered species and the status of the local Agrium plant.
Williams commended the work borough attorney Colette Thompson and her staff did to argue successfully for the dismissal of ACT's lawsuit and the decision of Superior Court Judge Carl Bauman, who ruled in the borough's favor by granting a summary judgement. The lawsuit ACT filed in 2006 questioned the legality of the borough's 3 percent tax increase. Williams said the alliance filed for an injunction in Superior Court on Dec. 4 that would have blocked the increase and asked for a summary judgement on the 2006 case. The judge handed down his decision in an 11-page document after the borough asked for its own summary judgement. Bauman's judgement included documentation dating back to the days when Alaska was a U.S. territory, Williams said, as well as constitutional evidence supporting the borough's tax increase.
"(The decision was) one of the finest written by a judge," Williams said. "It dispatched their entire lawsuit from 2006."
Williams said the next pending lawsuit ACT has filed concerns two propositions dealing with term limits that appeared on the Oct. 2, 2007 ballot. After the borough assembly and school board seated re-elected members afftected by the term limits measure, ACT filed suit demanding that both propositions apply to the winning candidates and asked the court to declare any seat held by a candidate who had served two prior terms to be considered vacant.
"This really boils down to a question of law that needs to be answered," Williams said. "(This) action will affect local governments across the state."
When touching on the budget for the 2009 fiscal year, Williams said he would lay out his budget plan at 1:30 p.m. next Wednesday at the assembly chambers, as well as set guidelines for the budgeting process. Williams and the borough assembly will then meet with the borough departments and service areas as well as the various communities during the last week of February and the early weeks of March in order to review their budgets. He said he would make his final changes and present his budget to the assembly on April 15 before holding public hearings over the proposed budget. Williams said he is hoping to get final assembly approval of the budget by May 20.
When he touched on the shutdown of the Agrium plant in Nikiski, Williams said Agrium was a "fantastic corporate citizen." Before the mayor's address, representatives from the Agrium plant presented a $1,700 donation to Peninsula Optional High School in order to fund creative activity for the school's students. Due to the plant's closure, Agrium won't be able to donate to the Food Bank for the forseeable future, so this year's donation, at $18,010, was its biggest to date.
"This will help and acquire over 1 million pounds of food at the Food Bank," said Food Bank executive director Linda Swarner.
"(Agrium's donations are) another indication of how well overall industry supports our community," Williams said.
Williams wished the corporation luck in its new endeavor to build a coal gasification plant on the Kenai Peninsula, saying that if Agrium succeeded it would cause a construction boom never before seen on the peninsula and would bring high-paying jobs to the community.
"I wish Agrium well in their deliberations and hope they have some good news in the first part of 2008," he said. "I hope they will continue to be around for many years in the future. Our communities have been well served by them."
Alaska representative Don Young will be at the chamber luncheon next week. The luncheon is opened to the public, but the chamber asks individuals to RSVP if they plan on attending.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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