Seeking a regional approach to common problems and a way to enhance mutually beneficial development, the mayors of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and its six incorporated cities have joined forces.
The mayors signed an agreement Wednesday in Soldotna creating the Kenai Peninsula Conference of Mayors for Regional Cooperation and Economic Development. Penning the agreement were borough Mayor John Williams, Kenai Mayor Pat Porter, Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey, Homer Mayor James Hornaday, Seward Mayor Vanta Shafer, as well as Mayor Philemon Morris of Kachemak City. Seldovia Mayor Richard Wyland could not attend the meeting but is expected to sign the agreement soon.
The mayors first met in February to develop the agreement signed Wednesday.
The Peninsula Conference of Mayors, which will meet as necessary, but at least twice a year, will give the municipal governments a forum through which to “plan and coordinate common action, leverage resources and aggressively pursue solutions to common problems on a regional level,” according to the signed agreement.
The conference is intended, among other things, to compliment the cooperative efforts of existing organizations, such as visitors’ bureaus, chambers of commerce, economic development agencies and other governmental entities. The agreement empowers the conference to lobby on behalf of the entire region.
Wednesday’s signing ceremony was followed by an open-to-the-public business meeting that included discussion of a position paper on the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) cost crisis affecting municipal government budgets across the state. Also on the agenda were the topics of roads and ferries, water quality and supply, 2005 census figures, bottom fish regionalization, the effects of climate change on fish habitat and the National Incident Management System.
In general, the conference of mayors will focus on regional planning, policy coordination and advocacy in the following areas, according to the agreement.
Visitor industry support and development
Fisheries and environmental protection
Energy availability and affordability
Health and social services
Enhanced relationships between peninsula communities
Emergency and disaster response capabilities
“I am very pleased we have been able to put this organization together,” Williams said following the meeting. “This marks the first time all the mayors of the peninsula have banded together in one group to support issues of mutual interest.”
From her perspective, Porter said the conference of mayors was less about what would benefit any particular city and more about what they collectively can agree to support or not support.
“It was a very productive meeting,” she said.
Carey said the conference of mayors represents something new in more ways than its mere establishment.
“For the first time in my five years as mayor, the borough is actively attempting to provide us information,” he said Wednesday following the meeting. “The borough is looking at the cities as partners, as compared to the past when it was, ‘you cities do your thing, and we’ll take care of the rest.’ It’s a vehicle to true partnership.”
Williams said the mayors shared information on four measures now in the Legislature dealing with municipal assistance and shared revenues for cities and boroughs around the state. Those are two versions of House Bill 330 that respectively propose aid levels of $58 million and $69 million, and Senate Bill 219, which proposes $63 million versus Senate Bill 224, which would provide $28 million, Williams said.
“It’s still early in the Legislative process,” Porter said. “We’re still in the watch mode at this point. But we agree municipal assistance is greatly needed.”
“In April, we will issue a joint resolution in support of one bill or another,” Williams said.
When discussion turned to ferry dockings on the peninsula, Shafer noted the state ferry Tustumena no longer stops in Seward, but does in Homer. Carey said the group agreed the issue should not pit peninsula cities against each other. They agreed an appropriate solution might be to have a ferry that now serves Whittier also make a stop in Seward.
Williams said another ferry service issue is the possibility of a Cook Inlet ferry between Anchorage and peninsula ports.
Carey said the peninsula mayors see their new group as a useful adjunct to the Tri-Borough Commission formed last year linking the Kenai Peninsula Borough to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Municipality of Anchorage.
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