Assembly seat numbers up to borough voters

Representation either will stay same or go up to 13 members

Posted: Monday, September 24, 2001

Kenai Peninsula Borough voters will decide Oct. 2 whether future borough assemblies will have nine or 13 members.

Whichever they choose, the assembly will draw the district boundaries. So, voters should not worry too much about the conceptual boundaries shown in the borough election pamphlet, said assembly member Milli Martin of Homer, who is on the borough reapportionment committee.

Voters' task is to decide whether a nine- or a 13-member assembly best serves their interests, she said.

The borough must redraw its assembly districts to account for population changes found with the 2000 census. The reapportionment committee considered dividing the borough into from five to 13 assembly districts. It finally recommended asking voters to choose between nine and 13 -- the choice the assembly put on the ballot.

Martin said the choice comes down to how many people each assembly member will represent. If voters stick with the present nine-member assembly, each member will represent roughly 5,521 people. If they choose a 13-member assembly, each member will represent roughly 3,822 people.

"I tend to favor nine members, because it works well. I'm afraid that with 13, we'd take longer to get through the borough's business," she said.

Reapportionment committee co-chair Betty Glick of Kenai, who sat on the assembly from 1982 to 1996, saw it as a choice between efficiency and representation. The assembly originally had 16 members, but after the 1990 census, voters changed the number to nine.

"Back then, people were saying it would be more efficient if there were fewer members. They would get more things done. It would be less costly," she said. "But people who supported that theory 10 years ago have since changed their minds. They feel the assembly is doing things without considering what the people want."

As an example, Glick cited the assembly's attempts to sell land set aside for preservation in the community plan for borough lands in Cooper Landing. She cited the push to build a private prison near Kenai.

It might be more difficult to push such proposals through a larger assembly, she said.

"It comes back to whether or not they are listening to the people, and whether you can do something with only five people in support of it. With a 16-member assembly, you're going to need to convince nine people to get something going," Glick said.

When the assembly had 16 members, it usually included a good cross-section of the people, she said.

Martin said she thought the 16-member assembly was unwieldy, but Glick said it accomplished a lot. The 16-member assemblies of the 1980s put the borough's Gray Cliff and Moose Point subdivisions on the market, banned fireworks, consolidated the borough's four road service areas and designed the borough's present solid waste disposal system, Glick said.

Still, she is not certain how she will vote. The number of districts is less important than the quality of the people voters elect, she said.

"Are these people there because they want to do something for the betterment of the community or are they there for something they hope to get out of it for themselves?" she said.

Martin also said she is uncertain how she will vote. While the nine-member assembly may be more efficient, the south peninsula may be better represented in a 13-member assembly, she said. The area from Anchor Point to Nanwalek could have two seats on a nine-member assembly or three on a 13-member assembly.

But a nine-member assembly may do a better job of keeping communities together, she said. No matter how the committee jockeys the lines, cutting the borough into 13 districts splits Sterling, she said.

The present conceptual plan puts Ridgeway, Robinson Loop and the Longmere Lake area into one assembly district, and Scout Lake Loop, the Moose River area, Cooper Landing, Moose Pass, Hope and the communities surrounding Seward in another.

After the election, the assembly must finalize the district boundaries. Borough Clerk Linda Murphy said the borough will work with the state to match them as closely as possible to voting precinct boundaries. The goal is to avoid situations like the present one at Sport Lake, where one voting precinct includes parts of four separate assembly districts.

The lines must be drawn so that the population of the largest assembly district is no more than 10 percent greater than the population of the smallest, Murphy said. Even if voters stick with the present nine-member assembly, some districts will have to change.

The 2000 census put population of the present District 5, which includes Sterling, Ridgeway and Funny River, at 6,240 -- 13 percent more than the 5,521 target. The census put the population of District 7, which runs from Happy Valley to Kasilof, at 6,391 -- nearly 16 percent more than the target. Shaving those districts would mean adding to others.

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