All three candidates running for two Kenai City Council seats told business leaders on Wednesday they favor continued economic development in Kenai and welcome the anticipated arrival of retailers Wal-Mart and Lowe's.
Incumbents Joe Moore and Barry Eldridge, and challenger Hal Smalley told members of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and guests the addition of two large retail stores to Kenai would bring added tax revenue, which they said should be turned back into the city's economy to maintain the quality of life in Kenai.
"I welcome both with open arms," said Moore.
"I look forward to both," said Eldridge.
"They would be a big plus for the city," said Smalley.
When asked during a chamber-sponsored candidate forum what infrastructure improvements the city should make with additional revenues brought in by the big retail operations, all three pointed to roads.
"Roads," said Moore. "I'm tired of driving on gravel roads."
The 12-year incumbent on the council added that improvements could be made to water and sewer facilities, and said he would like to see a decrease in the property tax mill rate.
In addition to paving more city streets, Eldridge said the city needs more sidewalks and more trails.
"We tell people to go walk around and see Old Town, but there're no sidewalks for them to walk on," he said.
Although he said no one is "clamoring for more hiking trails in Kenai," he sees a number of people hiking along Bridge Access Road and he believes a trail is needed there and a coastal trail is needed along the Kenai bluff.
Smalley said the city should use the revenue to continue existing road maintenance and construction services, and he said he would like to see more street lights installed in the city.
The candidates also were asked if they support commercial development along the Kenai Spur Highway.
Smalley favored such development "but we must make sure we have buffers between commercial businesses and residences," he said.
Eldridge, who has previously served the city on its Planning and Zoning Commission, said, "Yes (development along the spur) is inevitable. While I was on P and Z, we created the Limited Commercial Zone. It's logical along the Kenai Spur Highway."
"I support Kenai Spur Highway development ... slowly," Moore said.
Referring to the Central Mixed Use Zone created by the city council earlier this year, Moore said, "I would like to see the mixed use zone used well."
Eldridge evoked a bit of a laugh when answering why he chooses to remain a resident in Kenai.
Having spent a career with the U.S. Coast Guard, he said he endured a good deal of rainy weather at duty stations in Ketchikan and Juneau. Nevertheless, he liked Alaska and found Kenai particularly to his liking after one visit.
Upon discharge from military service, he found a good job in Kenai and moved to the city.
"Kenai is the cleanest, the nicest city, and while it may not have as nice a setting as Homer, you don't have all the end of the road issues here," Eldridge said.
In his late teens, Moore said he and a friend fantasized about moving to Alaska to work in the canneries. Along the way, however, he said he ran into a guy with a setnet site who asked if Moore would like to join him.
"I didn't really know what that was, but I came up to work the site," he said. "I stayed."
A former school teacher, Smalley said he and his wife had a one-day stop in Kenai in 1972, and they liked the city so well, they decided if they were ever to move in from the Bush, they would settle in Kenai. They did so in 1974.
"It's the caring people that keep us here," Smalley said.
The candidates all said they believe they all would be good representatives of the city if elected.
"I wish there were three open seats," said Moore.
There are not.
Only two of the three candidates will win seats on the city council as a result of the Oct. 2 election.
In Kenai, councilors serve the city at-large and the city does not conduct runoff elections. The two top vote getters in this campaign win.
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