Dollars contributed to the cause may vary by the thousands, but equal amounts of passion have both sides of the prison issue running toe to toe.
In October, Kenai Peninsula Borough voters will decide whether the borough should continue researching the possibility of constructing the state's first private prison, an 800- to 1,000-bed medium-security facility. A team led by Cornell Companies Inc. partnered with the borough earlier this year to plan and promote the project. Their efforts resulted in the passage of legislation introduced by Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and signed by Gov. Tony Knowles, which authorizes the Alaska Department of Corrections to consider such a facility within the borough.
According to campaign summaries submitted to the Alaska Public Offices Commission, the pro-prison group Concerned Citizens For Responsible Economic Development -- CCFRED -- raised $39,000 in donations, compared with $2,000 raised by Peninsula Citizens Against Private Prisons.
Topping the list of contributors to CCFRED are:
Cornell Companies Inc., $16,000;
Blaine Gilman, $8,100;
Kenai Natives Association Inc., $5,000;
Neeser Construction Inc., $5,000; and
Teamster ALIVE, $5,000.
Gilman is a Kenai attorney representing Kenai Natives Association's interest in the project. KNA owns land being considered by the borough as the site for the prison. Both KNA and Neeser are members of the Cornell-led team prison team.
The biggest single expense for CCFRED was a survey conducted by Moore Information Inc., of Portland, Ore., for which $16,350 has been paid and another $3,000 is still owed. The second largest expenditure -- $4,030 -- went to Signs Plus, of Soldotna, for campaign signs.
"When you start paying for professional services, it gets pretty spendy, pretty quick," said CCFRED co-chair Randy Daly, in reference to the survey. Daly's business, HiSpeed Gear, received $1,630 from CCFRED for copies and printing.
"What we wanted from the survey was a very honest look at what people were thinking and where people really stood, what the questions were and whether it was worth going forward or not," Daly said. "We found out that what was missing more than anything is that if you ask voters to vote on anything without some good information, they'll say, 'no.' But well-informed voters make informed decisions."
Daly said a yes vote on Oct. 2 will allow the borough to complete a feasibility study that is required before the borough can proceed with the construction and operation of the prison.
"The feasibility study needs to be done," Daly said. "That's the next logical step."
He characterized the vote as "premature," blaming "a very vocal minority that was throwing up public safety issues and wage issues. Although not based on any statistics, those were hot buttons, emotional buttons that people wanted to have answered, and rightfully so."
Daly, however, said that from the information available, he considers the prison a "win-win situation for the borough and the city of Kenai."
The list of contributions to Peninsula Citizens Against Private Prisons includes:
Public Safety Employees Association, $1,500;
James Price, $451; and
Three individual donations less than $100 each, $225.
The contribution from the Public Safety Employees Association, whose membership includes correctional officers, was an in-kind donation, equaling the cost for informational flyers.
Price, who is the chairman of the anti-prison group, disagreed that the vote is premature.
"If we cannot have answers in five months, when will we have answers?" Price said, referring to the length of time since he began raising concerns about the project. "I believe that there are answers, and they do not wish to reveal the answers, because if people knew what the answers were, they would certainly vote no on Proposition One."
His concerns focus on social and economic impacts the prison will have on the area, wages, jobs the prison will create and where the people will come from to staff those positions.
"There are a lot of questions and no answers," Price said.
He reported that the bulk of support for the anti-prison group is coming from Kenai, Soldotna and Nikiski, but also reaches across the borough to Homer, Clam Gulch and Sterling.
"We have received assurances that we will have people come on board from other communities," Price said. "We're developing a grass-roots organization and doing what we can to get the word out."
The next report from the ballot groups is due to APOC seven days prior to the Oct. 2 election.
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