An information meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough, led by newly elected borough Chairman Harold Pomeroy, was held in December 1963. Present were assembly members and other city and state officials. From left are William Vincent and William Show, Seward city councilmen; Robert Kranich, assemblyman from Homer; Lou Collier, Seldovia city councilman; Richard Morgan, Kenai assemblyman; Pomeroy; R.A. Stephens, Seldovia city councilman; Jack Randall, assemblyman from Cooper Landing; Morris Coursen, assemblyman from Sterling; Robert Williams, assemblyman from Anchor Point; Harry Gregoire (back), representing the Homer Public Utility District; James Harrison (front), Seward city manager; Burton Carver, mayor of Soldotna; and Charles Cole, state representative from Seward. Seward and Seldovia had not yet selected councilmen to represent them on what would be a seven-man borough assembly.
Photo submitted by Katherine Par
A 1963 Mandatory Borough Incorporation Act decreed that boroughs be formed in eight major population areas, one being the Kenai-Cook Inlet and Seward election district. So peninsula folks responded with monthly meetings at Riverside House in Soldotna, electing Dr. Joseph Deisher of Seward as chairman and local homesteader Rusty Lancashire as secretary. Taxes were on the forefront of everyone’s mind. No property taxes were assessed except in first-class cities, but a borough would bring them to all borough residents.
A strong majority of the 14 communities represented at that first Riverside meeting were for a peninsula-wide borough. Later a petition originating in Homer proposed a borough for the southern half of the peninsula, including Ninilchik with Homer. However, Ninilchik soon voiced a preference for being part of a whole peninsula borough, and this push was apparently dropped. A bid from Anchorage for a borough tying together the peninsula, Matanuska Valley and Anchorage in one large borough only served to more tightly unite the peninsula communities. Nobody wanted to be in a borough with Anchorage.
The boundary of the Kenai Peninsula Borough petitioned included the entire peninsula and stretched across the inlet to Tyonek, taking in the oil platforms between. It was a scary leap forward. Even Dr. Deisher, who had led the peninsula discussions, had some qualms. In a letter to the editor, he feared “financial havoc” for some communities.
Boroughs became realities, either voluntarily or by state declaration, on Jan. 1, 1964.
Harold Pomeroy, a town mayor in California active in politics before coming to Alaska in 1949 and homesteading in Bear Cove on Kachemak Bay, was elected borough chairman in December 1963. His first hire was Frances Brymer as borough clerk. Setting up the tax rolls and assessing department was urgent. The employees put in long hours. Virginia Gibbs and Dona Palmer, bookkeeper, helped get the tax system together. Gerald Heier served as assessor and the first appraisers were Don Thomas, Arthur Snyder and Angelo Hillas.
The borough office was in the small Farnsworth building on the Sterling Highway near the junction. The lot is now occupied by Auto Spa.
Seven members were on the first borough assembly. Three represented the borough’s first-class cities and were selected by city councils. Richard Morgan, Kenai; William Vincent, Seward; and Lou Collier, Seldovia. The four elected by the areas outside the cities were Robert Kranich, Homer; Morris Coursen, Sterling; Robert Williams, Anchor Point; and Jack Randall, Cooper Landing, who was voted president. Soldotna, as a fourth-class city, did not get direct representation on the assembly until Jack Farnsworth and Harold Jackson won election in October 1964. Meetings of the assembly were held in Thompson’s Log, the building across from the library, now occupied by J & H Sewing and Vacuum and Soldotna Computers.
A 3 percent sales tax was approved by an overwhelming majority in the October ’64 election. In a spirited election in October ’65, Kenai, Seward and Soldotna vied to be the permanent seat of the borough. Soldotna, boosted by support of Homer, won.
The magnificent Borough Building on Binkley was completed in 1971, while George Navarre of Kenai was chairman.
An exemplary job was accomplished by first borough chairman Pomeroy, who served for just three years. First hire Frances Brymer was a borough mainstay for 20 years, putting out excellent minutes of borough meetings and others. Some of these early minutes and records may be read at the Soldotna Museum. It’s a collection saved by Mable Smith, reporter for the Cheechako News.
The attractive Kenai Peninsula Borough headquarters on Binkley Street, built in 1971, had reached capacity by 2002. Other separate buildings are used by the borough.
This column was written by Katherine Parker with the Soldotna Historical Society.
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