Transit funding nixed

Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2000

HOMER -- Driven to differing points of view, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly put the brakes on a proposed ordinance to adopt transportation funding powers.

With each side claiming the public's best interests, the ordinance, which would have provided the Central Area Rural Transit System (CARTS) with $50,000, stalled for lack of a majority by a 4-to-4 vote Tuesday night with Homer representative Chris Moss absent. A request for reconsideration will bring the matter back before the assembly at the Sept. 26 meeting.

Representing CARTS was Kristin Lambert, executive director of the 9-month-old nonprofit organization, which she described as a "transportation brokerage" modeled after successful examples across the United States. Lambert said 45 agencies and organizations, including the Federal Transit Administration, Alaska Depart-ment of Transportation, Alaska Mental Health Trust, Alaska Public Assistance and a number of area groups are supporting the project, which will proceed even without borough involvement.

Funding from eight sources currently totals $660,000, including $5,000 from the city of Soldotna. CARTS will begin taking reservations on Sept. 29, with actual rides beginning Oct. 2.

"The whole thrust is to get people independent," Lambert said.

Illustrating her point were Eliza Eller and Barry Creighton of Kasilof. The two are part of a 50-member nonprofit therapeutic environment for mentally disabled people and their families that have lived in the area for 13 years. They currently share one vehicle.

"CARTS came along and has offered us hope for getting to where we need to go," Eller said.

Dick Troeger, former borough planning director, also spoke favorably of the ordinance.

"Public transportation is the common denominator," said Troeger.

But it proved a dividing line at Tuesday's meeting in Homer.

"This is one of those proposals that sounds good, but it's flawed," said Ruby Kime, of Ninilchik. "It's a never-ending expenditure to the borough."

Gerald McQueen, of Nikiski, called the proposal "a very noble and kind gesture," but didn't believe it would benefit that many people.

Abigail Fuller, of Homer, quoted from a Federal Highway Admini-stration study.

"The most significant policy implication derived from this study is the need to make automobiles more accessible to workers who otherwise have limited access," Fuller read, adding, "In 1999, the Progressive Policy Institute concluded that greater access to cars, not transit, would be the greatest help."

The assembly's comments echoed the public's two-way thinking.

"Don't let the borough be a roadblock to this project," said assembly member Tim Navarre of Kenai.

Drew Scalzi, who represents Diamond Ridge and Seldovia, opposed the ordinance.

"This nonprofit would open the door for other nonprofits," he said. "I truly believe an areawide vote would fail," he added, referencing the program's central peninsula focus.

Attempts to amend the proposal by assembly members Pete Sprague and Grace Merkes failed, and when it was finally put to a vote, the ordinance froze in the assembly's headlights, doomed possibly by the absence of Homer assembly member Chris Moss.

"They really should have supported it," said Lambert, as she left the meeting.

However, the borough's decision won't stop the program.

"We're still going ahead," Lambert said of the Oct. 2 start date.

Other items on Tuesday night's agenda enjoyed smoother travel:

The assembly adopted a resolution dedicating the library at the Kenai River Center as the Donald E. Gilman Resource Library, in honor of the former borough mayor and state senator's commitment to the Kenai River area.

Addressing vehicles abandoned on borough rights of way and public property, the assembly gave its nod of approval to an ordinance outlining procedures for removal, storage and disposal of vehicles based on Alaska statutes.

Failing to find support Tuesday night was the subdivision of some 860 acres of borough land in the Point Possession area.

Scheduled for public hearings at the assembly meetings on Sept. 26 and Oct. 10 was a proposal by Scalzi to increase the monthly stipend for assembly members.

Postponed until the Oct. 10 assembly meeting was a request to authorize the borough mayor to transfer surplus balances from completed capital improvement projects to previously authorized projects that exceed anticipated costs.

"The assembly has given up too much power," said Nikiski representative Jack Brown. "We need to exercise some oversight of these funds."

On Oct. 10, the assembly also will address an ordinance to provide for appointment of a board of equalization.

The next assembly meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 26 at the Borough Building in Soldotna.

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