Mitigating land-use conflicts, supporting economic development, expanding fire and emergency services, and aiding senior service programs were among the issues raised most often and seen as important in a telephone survey conducted by a contractor working on the update of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehensive Plan.
The survey showed an apparent willingness by many residents to accept stricter regulation of sensitive environmental resources such as fish-bearing rivers and streams, floodplains and wetlands. It also showed a desire for expanded recycling and hazardous waste disposal.
The survey demonstrated that, by and large, residents remained cool to the idea of paying for additional borough services and facilities, though in some cases sizable minorities said they would.
The survey was conducted in December by the McDowell Group, part of the borough's plan update team. Surveyors called 607 borough households to measure opinions about land use, public facilities, the economy, the environment and more.
"The telephone survey results report is very interesting and provides citizens and decision-makers with a lot of useful information," Max Best, the borough's director of planning, said in a press release. The report can be found on the borough's Web site.
Assembly President Pete Sprague of Soldotna said he found no surprises in the results.
"I don't see any glaring needs that the borough isn't addressing at this time," he said. "There is no need to change what we are doing. I see no glaring omissions in our policies."
Assembly Vice President Gary Superman of Nikiski agreed there was no call for drastic changes in the survey results. He said he was looking forward to discussing the survey with McDowell representatives in the near future to get a clearer understanding of the demographics, surveying methodology and an interpretation of some of the results.
Among the survey results:
Residents overwhelmingly said land regulation to protect private property rights and prevent conflicts is important. Some 77 percent of residents said land regulation is either important or very important, with 46 percent calling it very important. However, just over half (53 percent) said they thought current borough regulations were "just right." Only 7 percent thought there was too much regulation.
A majority saw industrial land use and gravel pits as ripe for stricter regulation. Less support was seen for stricter rules for subdivision, residential areas and private airstrips. Only about a third, however, indicated they'd be willing to pay for more regulatory enforcement.
A strong majority supported efforts to increase environmental protection. Seventy percent wanted improved water-quality monitoring, 67 percent wanted stricter regulations near rivers and streams and 63 percent wanted stricter regulations on floodplains.
Again, only about a third said they'd be willing to pay higher taxes for such added protections.
When it came to helping the elderly, fully 84 percent believe the borough should continue support for senior center programs.
Two-thirds supported expanding recycling services and improving fire and emergency services in their areas.
Fewer than half said they wanted to pay for changes in facilities for animal control, hazardous waste disposal, fish waste disposal, and garbage disposal.
Among several economic development initiatives, borough residents are most in favor of vocational/technical training, followed by small-business support, the survey reported. Nearly three out of five favored land-development assistance programs.
When it came to tax issues, the survey found 45 percent of borough residents supported tax relief for new or expanded business developments. Another sizeable minority, 43 percent, supported instituting a borough bed tax.
The survey was designed in collaboration with Cogan Owens Cogan, the Kenai Peninsula Borough staff, borough Planning Commission members and members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. To ensure a significant sampling of smaller unincorporated areas, those areas were "over-sampled," while urban areas were "under-sampled," McDowell Group said. Once survey results were in, the data were weighted to reflect the true distribution of population in the borough. The survey's maximum margin of error was plus or minus () 4.1 percent.
Some of the regional attitudes revealed by the general questions posed in the survey were interesting.
For instance, it was residents of Nikiski (93 percent) and Seward (87 percent) who proved most likely to say land-use regulation was important or very important.
Homer area residents were supportive of regulating industrial land-use, while rural residents were least supportive (65 percent and 48 percent, respectively).
Seward residents (64 percent) wanted better control over gravel pits. Again, rural residents as a grouping were least supportive of pit regulations.
Those with annual household incomes of less than $40,000, and people under the age of 25 were less likely to see land regulation as important.
Borough residents clearly showed an interest in enacting stricter regulations of land use around valuable rivers and streams. The least support for stricter rules was found in Nikiski, but even there, 56 percent were in favor.
If the idea of actually enforcing tighter rules around waterways essentially split opinion in Nikiski, that wasn't the case when it came to keeping tabs on the condition of those waterways. Nikiski respondents overwhelmingly supported better water-quality monitoring. In fact, only 3 percent said they were strongly opposed.
That was a better showing than the 80-percent favoring the idea in Homer, an area perceived by many to be politically "green" when compared to central peninsula communities.
Homer assembly member Chris Moss suggested that experience might be the equalizer in this case. Nikiski residents live near the most industrialized part of the borough. They may be tuned in to impacts to the environment even though many residents may make their living at or because of the industrial complex, he said.
"Maybe they see what can happen if things are not monitored," Moss said.
Assembly President Pete Sprague said he found nothing especially surprising in the fact that residents believed land regulations to protect property rights and prevent conflicts were worthwhile. But he also noted that half believe the current level of regulation is about right, so the survey shouldn't be seen as a mandate for taking a new direction.
As for the Nikiski data, Sprague said he believed there was "a real awareness" of the heavy industrial activity in the area.
"The survey reflects concern about water quality," he said, adding that the borough has the tools to help with such things as local-option zoning.
Superman said he found nothing surprising about Nikiski's interest in water quality. He helped institute a groundwater study around 1990 in response to questions he and his Nikiski neighbors had.
"Everybody is concerned about groundwater," he said. "These are ongoing concerns. It is natural that people in industrial areas want to know what is going on."
In the area of economic development, 62 percent said they supported the borough using its resources to recruit and support small business. The greatest favor for that idea was found in Seward, which also led all areas in backing vocational training.
The least support for using resources to recruit small business was found in Homer, but even there, 52 percent were in favor. Exactly why Homer should be so split on the issue is a good question, Moss said, because some recent debates might suggest no real antipathy to small business in Homer.
For instance, Moss said, the Homer City Council recently rejected a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, while Soldotna and Kenai have both adopted such bans for restaurants, a move that opponents saw as anti-business.
"We are constantly hearing the barrage about how green Homer is and about all the tree-huggers down here," Moss quipped. "But you never know what Homer is going to do. Maybe they actually are more into personal freedom than folks up north."
Superman said he found it interesting that people in his district showed as much interest as they did in tourism. He said there isn't much in the way of tourism industry activity there. He suggested that perhaps it was an expression of the community's support of diversity in the borough economy.
A majority of residents (57 percent) opposed a boroughwide police department. Only 30 percent were in favor. That may have been reflective of concern that taxes would be needed to pay for a police department, and also that cities that have their own forces might have to relinquish some powers to the borough. There was less opposition to adding law enforcement in areas currently without a city police department. In those areas, only 47 percent were opposed.
On animal control services, Nikiski area residents remain the most supportive (72 percent), and rural residents the least supportive (43 percent).
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