Meetings open doors to feedback

Road extension, prison, budget discussions give public chance to address assembly

Posted: Monday, May 14, 2001

"Full" describes the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly's Tuesday committee schedule and hearing agenda. And public participation is part of the picture.

There are two opportunities for the public to address the assembly on the proposed North Road Extension Project, once during the 1 p.m. Lands Committee meeting and again during the evening assembly. The original ordinance, introduced by Jack Brown of Nikiski, attempted to provide a 20 percent match for a $6 million grant from the federal government. To do that, Brown proposed exchanging 469 acres of borough-owned land for the gravel on 80 acres of land owned by James T. Hall. The gravel was valued at $600,000 and the borough parcels at $571,600.

However, Brown's original proposal received a cold shoulder from the public.

"You have people in the gravel business that no deal is a good deal unless it's with them," Brown said. "As far as nongravel people, their major concern was giving too much land to one individual, and once we cut the land back dramatically, then people started to feel better about it.

"Most people that I've talked to are advocates of the project," he said. "There are some people who do not support the extension of the highway for whatever reason, so they'll use whatever excuse to say it isn't a good idea, but that's a very small minority."

Responding to public concerns, Brown is now proposing swapping 315 acres of borough land, valued at $374,580. Borough Mayor Dale Bagley has submitted yet another version of the ordinance, which offers to sell 196 acres of borough land for the gravel of an equal value from Hall's land. According to a memo from Bob Bright, planning director for the borough, Hall has agreed to sell the gravel for $.91 per cubic yard.

"I like either the version that I have or the mayor's version," Brown said. "I think my version would save the borough money. Mine's for more acreage, but no cash is exchanged. But either one is fine with me. I'm even willing to amend mine further if that's what people want."

A financial feasibility study for the private prison project currently being explored by the borough will be discussed during the 3 p.m. meeting of the Committee of the Whole.

The contract between the borough and Cornell Corrections Inc., who leads the planning and promotion of the prison, requires the study be completed before the assembly pursues construction and operation of the facility.

"We'll be addressing the details of a feasibility study pending the governor's decision to sign or not to sign the bill," said Bill Popp of Kenai, referring to HB 149, legislation introduced this year in the Alaska Legislature by Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

"We'll be looking at and discussing the aspects that we want to see addressed. I'm going to be keenly interested in making sure the feasibility study adequately addresses issues of impacts on infrastructure, social services and schools," Popp said.

According to the draft, the study would "investigate the economic viability of the project, examine and identify all costs associated with the design, construction and operation of all aspects of the facility."

It also would identify operating costs, staffing levels, profits and income generated by the 800- to 1,000-bed medium security facility.

The public also will have an opportunity to testify before the assembly Tuesday evening concerning the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

A draft presented to the assembly at the May 1 meeting by Jeff Sinz, finance director for the borough, proposed revenues in the amount of $69.3 million, an 8.2 percent decrease from the previous year. Proposed expenditures for FY02 totaled $70.3 million, a 10.9 percent drop from FY01. It also anticipated a .5 mill decrease in areawide taxes.

"I guess one comment about the budget is that it's really discouraging for me to see the lack of public participation," Brown said. "People would be shocked that we're passing budgets totaling millions of dollars every year, but no one is there to question them or analyze them at all.

"Even though we're in good shape right now financially, I'd appreciate the public coming out and giving direction to the administration and the assembly to keep us in a good financial situation."

One budget request that did catch the public's attention was $150,000 requested by the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council, a $30,000 increase from FY01.

"I think at this point with the transition KPTMC is going through, we're only looking at status quo funding," said Popp, the assembly's liaison with the travel-related organization.

Faron Owen, KPTMC's executive director, recently submitted his resignation after a comment made by Owen struck at the public's sensitivity to racial issues and caused businesses to question their involvement with the organization.

"The request (in the budget) is for $120,000, which is a status quo request," Popp said. "I believe that will have the support of the assembly."

Jack Brown's 14 years of service on the assembly come to a close Tuesday evening. Brown is leaving elected office to take a position with the borough's community and economic development division. (See related story.)

"It's going to be an interesting situation," Popp said. "This will be my first time dealing with appointing a replacement. Jack's going to be missed for a number of reasons. He did a very good job representing his district. I hope we do a good job replacing him with someone who can continue that trend."

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