Kenai to install toll booths? April Fools!

Posted: Wednesday, April 02, 2003

An unidentified prankster celebrated April Fool's Day by announcing a creative solution to the city of Kenai's financial woes -- installing toll booths around the city.

According to a press release sent out Tuesday, the city council held an emergency meeting Monday night and enacted an ordinance calling for the placement of toll booths on the north and south entrances to the city on the Kenai Spur Highway and Bridge Access Road.

Vehicles entering the city would not be charged a fee, but vehicles leaving the city would be charged 75 cents starting July 1, with monthly passes available for $25, the release stated.

The council also supposedly called for booths to be placed at The Pillars, Eagle Rock, Cunningham Park and the city dock "in an attempt to thwart scofflaws trying to circumvent the toll by taking a boat into the city."

The toll booths, along with increased landing fees at Kenai Municipal Airport, were hoped to raise $1.2 million a year in revenue for the city, which would spare the council from having to raise property and-or sales taxes, and might eventually even raise enough money to "construct a wading pool near the beach at the end of Spruce Drive," the release stated.

The original idea for the toll booths was reported to be the brainchild of former council member Duane Bannock, now the director of the Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles.

The release implied that installing toll booths in Kenai was just the first step in Bannock's master plan to litter the state with them. Bannock is quoted as saying "As part of Gov. Murkowski's fiscal revitalization plan, I will be pushing for toll booths on all roads in the state. I figured it was best if I encouraged it in my own back yard first, so to speak."

In a phone interview Tuesday, Bannock said he didn't know anything about the press release, much less the toll booths.

"It sounds like an untapped source of revenue, but I have to say that is not familiar to me," he said.

Kenai Mayor John Williams was likewise unaware of the ordinance or the emergency meeting the council supposedly had, "Not unless it was held at Duane's barbecue in Anchorage," he said. "That sounds pretty darn funny."

The faux press release was faxed to the Clarion at 1:08 p.m. The fax bore the official city seal, although it conveniently did not have a return fax number or sender identifier. At the end of the release, Kenai City Hall and its phone number was listed as the source to call for more information.

The receptionist at city hall knew nothing about it, however, and said they hadn't gotten any calls regarding toll booths.

Finance Director Larry Sem-mens also pleaded ignorant of the release and seemed impressed at the culprit's thoroughness by including the city's seal.

"Somebody's stealing our identity," he said.

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