Despite recent layoffs in the oil and gas industry and the closing of Big Kmart, Kenai's largest taxpayer, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Dale Bagley says he believes the future of the peninsula's economy is bright.
Bagley told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce Wednesday that he's confident new oil exploration, combined with an expected rebound of the nation's economy following the war in Iraq, will help spur the economy locally.
"I do feel pretty optimistic about the future. I think everyone should," Bagley said, "The economy is starting to turn."
Bagley said local oil and gas development is encouraging. He said now that Marathon Oil's Osprey platform is operating, Cook Inlet's total oil production has risen to 35,000 barrels per day and that figure could go even higher.
"We're looking at doubling oil (production) here in Cook Inlet. That's a pretty good deal," Bagley said.
Turning to the subject of the possibility that Agrium's nitrogen products facility could be facing work force reductions, the mayor said he's optimistic new sources of natural gas can be located to fuel the plant. He said the Murkowski administration is working hard to ensure both oil and gas development increases statewide.
"We do have a pro-development administration now," Bagley said.
Additionally, Bagley said the local commercial fishing industry may finally be moving in a positive direction after a decade-long slump. He said the Kenai Wild salmon branding program is infusing much-needed life into the industry, and he believes things are looking up for area fishers.
"There's certainly a lot of excitement about the commercial fishing industry that we haven't seen in several years," he said.
As for the Big Kmart closure, Bagley said he is holding out hope that another business eventually will move into the area to make up for the loss, although he did not know specifically what new business might come to Kenai.
"We'll just have to see what the future holds," he said.
Bagley also spoke about the state of the borough's upcoming fiscal year 2004 operating budget. He said that although the borough has had to face some stiff cost increases in the past year most notably to its insurance costs taxpayers likely won't see a jump in property taxes.
"The mill rate should stay the same in the general fund and in most service areas," Bagley said. He did caution that the hospital service area rate would likely increase by .1 mills.
In concluding his remarks, the mayor painted a positive overall picture of the state of the borough. He seemed particularly enthusiastic about the 2006 Arctic Winter Games, which he said are expected to bring more than $5 million into the local economy during March, normally a slow time for the area's economy.
"It'll be like three weeks in the middle of July," Bagley said.
In addition to the economic value of the games, Bagley said he's pleased the borough will be able to host an event that fosters increased community spirit in the area.
"We have not done a lot of things that have brought these communities together," he said. "That's why I'm excited about the Arctic Winter Games."
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