What we lack: Survey tells local leaders what the region is missing

Posted: Friday, August 13, 2010

Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District presented the results of a survey it conducted on the economic challenges that Soldotna and the borough currently face to the city council Wednesday night.

The survey involved interviewing 327 people in person, by telephone or through an internet response form.

District representative Tom Sloan said that survey respondents felt a lack of trained workers, undeveloped public transportation system and the high price of commercial property detracted from economic growth in the presentation. Soldotna businesses believed low quality internet speed and access hurt their ability to compete in a global market, but not as much as their counterparts in rural communities.

Sloan said that these issues affected the Central Peninsula in addition to the common complaints of the national economy, a lack of tourism and energy prices.

In the wake of the recent recession, Sloan said that 43 percent of respondents thought that the borough economy would improve and 42 percent had a positive outlook towards the state economy.

"It was one of the less optimistic communities on the Peninsula, said Sloan.

Just over half of the respondents postulated that their own businesses would improve, however.

The district recommended that the city gear its development towards services that cater to the aging population and look into oil and gas exploration. Executive Director John Torgerson said that the Peninsula could profit as a shipping and trucking hub between Anchorage and neighboring communities.

The council accepted more than $1 million in state grant money for capital projects, The council added the $1,151,400 to the Funny River Road Relocation, Lighting Energy Conservation, North Binkley Street Reconstruction and Soldotna Creek Park Development projects.

The council also approved an ordinance to appropriate $900,000 to the Small Capital Projects Fund and additional $300,000 for the cemetery project.

Soldotna resident Fred Sturman voiced concern that the city council is pouring too much funding into the cemetery project before policies are set in stone. He wanted to know height limits for grave markers, as well as details on burial procedures.

"Can I go dig my own grave for my friend, or do I have to hire a city worker?" Sturman asked the governing body.

Thurman also asked that the city keep the prices of lots low, otherwise the cemetery will only serve the richer elements of the community.

Mayor Peter Micciche said that he anticipates the cemetery will offer reasonable pricing. Micciche also requested that anyone interested in formulating cemetery policy should apply to join the committee in late August.

City Clerk Theresa Fahning announced that two council seats were up for election. Fahning said that the filling period ends today at 4:30 p.m.

"Apathy is sometimes a way of telling us we're doing a good, but we could use more participation," Micciche said.

Councilmember Edward Slaeter, whose seat is up for election, also encouraged participation.

"If you don't participate in government, you get the government you deserve," he said, quoting an old addage. "Now is the time to participate."

Slaeter does not anticipate running for re-election.

"My wife just retired. It's time we started on our bucket list," he said.

Councilmember Peggy Mullen's seat is also slated for election. She is tentatively considering filling, but wants to know who else is running.

"If someone wonderful is running, I'll gladly let them take my seat," she said.

Tony Cella can be reached at tony.cella@peninsulaclarion.com

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