Candidates for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor squared off Wednesday before a standing-room only Kenai Chamber of Commerce luncheon crowd and pitched their respective visions for the future of the borough.
In many respects, one-term incumbent Mayor Dale Bagley and his challenger, Rep. Ken Lancaster, R-Soldotna, drew similar portraits of the fiscal state of the borough, the needs of its citizens and the prospects for development.
Indeed, little seemed to separate the two except personal style. Both appeared comfortable with campaigning and were clear on their messages. They were frugal with words and answered questions with a minimum of hesitation.
Bagley opened his comments by reflecting on why he ran in 1999 and listing what he sees as accomplishments of his first term.
"Regardless of what happens Oct. 1, I have enjoyed my time in office and am very grateful of having had this opportunity," he said. "When I ran for office last time I campaigned on more land sales, better roads, a better economy and better borough government."
He noted the recent $900,000 land sale in Cooper Landing, ongoing logging sales, a tripling of the money in the borough Road Department, a road
clean-up program, a project to help eliminate abandoned vehicles, a marketing program to help the commercial fishing industry, efforts to bring the 2006 Arctic Winter Games to the Kenai, more funding for seniors programs, a change in property tax payment due dates to coincide with permanent fund dividend checks, reduced penalties and interest on late sales tax payments, reduced paperwork, increased money for school capital improvement projects and a reduction in the mill rate for city residents.
"The borough government is in great financial shape, the peninsula economy is strong, especially with the addition of BP's gas-to-liquids facility," he said.
Lancaster, who opted not to seek re-election to the Alaska House of Representatives and who will complete his term at the end of the year, said his experience as a former mayor of Soldotna and in the Alaska Legislature, plus his age and length of time on the peninsula make him a good candidate for the borough's top job.
"I've been an active chamber member, served three years as president. I spent 21-plus years on the Homer Electric Association board of directors serving the entire peninsula with power. I was Soldotna mayor for eight years as well as on the council a couple of years prior to that."
Lancaster served on the council from 1989 to 1993.
He promised to be a more involved in borough issues than his opponent.
"As borough mayor I will be a more hands-on mayor more involved in the community throughout the entire peninsula working with the administration, the assembly, as well as with the different service areas and community organizations. Working together we can do a lot better job creating more economic development, one of those being tourism the peninsula, it being the third largest industry in the state."
Each candidate was asked what his first priority would be if elected.
Bagley said he would focus on better borough government. He said he took some steps to make it more efficient during his first term, but more could be done. However, he also said the borough government will never run as efficiently as a private enterprise because it is not a private business.
"There are a lot of reasons the borough has to do what it does," he said. "But it can certainly run more efficiently than what it has done. I've made some changes and would like to continue making more changes."
Lancaster said he was looking forward to better communication with departments, department heads and service organizations to create efficiencies to make government work smoother and make borough tax revenues stretch further.
"You would always like to see less taxes," he said. "I'm not sure we can always do with less taxes. The food initiative on your ballot (which would eliminate sales tax on unprepared foods), if passed, will present quite a challenge. If it doesn't pass, we still have the challenge of education funding, better roads within the borough, better maintenance. There are no shortage of challenges ahead," he said.
Lancaster said he opposes Ballot Measure 4, the unprepared foods sales tax initiative. He said it could have a devastating effect on municipal revenues and "a lot of unintended consequences."
He also said promoters of the initiative drive "have not done their homework."
Bagley, too, opposes the measure. Property owners could end up carrying the burden of making up lost sales tax revenues, he said.
Asked how they would energize the economy with regard to oil and gas, fishing and tourism, Bagley said the borough already has taken some steps, including creation of an oil and gas liaison position. That person actively promotes the natural gas pipeline on behalf of the borough. He also said he would continue to push tourism and that the borough does fund the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. The Kenai Wild program, which markets Cook Inlet salmon, is a step in the right direction, he said. He promised to do what he could to help raise the per-pound price of Cook Inlet salmon.
Lancaster said that while he was on the HEA board, he helped encourage some of the development on the lower peninsula carried on by Marathon and Union Oil companies and worked to get a pipeline from the lower peninsula to the central peninsula permitted. He said that as a legislator he helped keep funding for the Kenai Wild program in the budget. He said he would do all he could to promote the Kenai Peninsula as a tourist destination.
Both candidates have experience in the real estate field. Each said he would work to put more borough land into private hands.
Each said he would be a strong advocate for education and said school funding was problematic because of state and federal rules limiting local support. Both said they are anticipating completion of the cost-differential study being conducted by the state.
Both said they would work to promote more economic development.
Each said he opposes fish farming.
Bagley and Lancaster both said the permitting process for natural resource projects needs an overhaul.
Asked to characterize his management style, Bagley said he considers himself to be a hands-on manager, adding that managing the large borough government was a tough job. He said he typically gets to the office early and leaves late. Lancaster said his style is one of involvement, of meeting with people and setting priorities.
Both promised to be accessible to constituents.
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