A public hearing in Nikiski to gather input from citizens on whether to create a law enforcement service area was attended by 16 people, and all agreed that something must be done to increase a police presence in the community.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is considering an ordinance proposed by assembly member Gary Super-man, who represents Nikiski, that would create the Nikiski Law Enforcement Service Area.
If approved, the service area would establish a five-member board either to contract for police services or create a new law enforcement agency to provide a law enforcement presence in the same land area as the Nikiski Fire Service Area.
As proposed, people within the law enforcement service area would pay up to 1 mill or $100 per $100,000 assessed value of their real property annually, which would generate between $1.2 and $1.3 million, according to Superman.
Ed Oberts, assistant to borough Mayor Dale Bagley, told those attending the hearing that Soldotna and Kenai spend $1.2 million and $1.3 million, respectively, to operate their police departments.
"A lot of people are back-offish until they're hit (with) $20,000 to 30,000 in property loss," said Nikiski resident Mike Peek.
"Then, $100 a year is not bad," he said.
Angry citizens brought the lack of a law enforcement presence to light earlier this year after 20 residences were broken into in three months.
About 150 irate citizens met at the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center on Feb. 4 to report about crimes committed against them, to air their gripes about a purported lack of response from Alaska State Troopers and to toss about ideas for stopping the burglaries.
Trooper "E" Detachment Commander Capt. Tom Bowman was on hand to accept the bashing.
On March 1, half as many people attended a second meeting to debate the issue and formed a committee of the Nikiski Community Council to study the concept of creating a law enforcement service area and other alternatives for combating area thieves.
The committee of roughly 28 people produced a draft ordinance and presented it to the council April 5.
Last Monday, the borough assembly conducted the first of three public hearings on the proposed ordinance, which, if approved, will be placed on the October ballot for a deciding vote of the people residing within the service area.
Additional hearings will be conducted during regular assembly meetings in Soldotna on Tuesday and June 1.
Assembly President Pete Sprague and Superman were the only assembly members present. They were joined by Colette Thompson, borough attorney, Oberts and Linda Murphy, borough clerk.
Prior to taking public comments, Superman presented his assessment of the situation in Nikiski, saying visible signs of authority have been lacking there.
"We have to have something. Otherwise, we're going to go backward," Superman said.
Blake Ledet, the first Nikiski citizen to address the panel Monday, said, "I really support having service out here 'cause I was one of the people that had stuff taken.
"I definitely support it," he said.
Sherry Heath, a Nikiski school bus driver who has lived in the community for 36 years, related an incident from the past winter when her bus was passed on a curve on Island Lake Road by a car that had two teens lying spread-eagle on the roof.
"I called dispatch on our radio to see if there was a trooper out here. They said, 'No,'" Heath said.
"There never is when we need one. I called to see if deaths could be prevented.
"Our population is only going to get smaller if we can't provide safety," she said.
When asked by Superman how he felt about safety in the community, Dale Lloyd said he was "leery."
"My wife was scared when I had to make an emergency trip to Washington," Lloyd said. "She shouldn't have to be in fear in our own home."
Referring to a comment made by Superman earlier about being tarred and feathered several years ago when he brought up the issue of needing a law enforcement department, former borough assembly member Phil Nash said, "Mr. Superman has pulled off the tar and feathers and has put together a good plan."
North Peninsula recreation director Karen Kester also said she favors the plan.
"When we've had problems with teens at the (swimming) pool, sometimes it's taken 45 minutes, sometimes five hours for a response," she said.
"A presence out here would send a message," Kester said.
Sally Sliger, who said her home has been burglarized three times, told the borough officials that she, too, is in favor of an increased law enforcement presence in Nikiski.
When questioned by Sprague about trooper response to the burglaries, Sliger said she has never had a problem.
Nikiski Community Council President Fred Miller told the borough panel that he first became involved in the law enforcement issue in May 2000, and said, "If it doesn't happen this fall, it'll come back again."
He said his family has been burglarized several times.
"People pretty much do what they want when there are no consequences," Miller said.
"Other than cost, are there any other reasons why this shouldn't be on the ballot?" asked Sprague.
"I can't think of any," Miller said.
"This really is a primary quality-of-life issue out here in Nikiski," Superman said.
He and Sprague urged people in the audience to comment again at the next scheduled public hearings in Soldotna.
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