Kenai council candidates say budget is hot topic

Posted: Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Kenai residents will have a choice between experience and new perspectives in the Oct. 1 election for the two open Kenai City Council seats.

Five candidates are competing for the two positions -- incumbent Duane Bannock, who has been on the council for nine years, incumbent Linda Swarner, who has been on the council for 14 years, and challengers Dustin Aaronson, Barry Eldridge and John "Ozzie" Osborne.

Of the challengers, Osborne and Eldridge have experience participating in city commissions and have previously run for council seats, though neither have won an election.

Aaronson is a newcomer to the city's political arena.

The two positions open are three-year terms. The top two vote-getters at the polls will be awarded the council positions.

The city's budget has been a hot topic among the council and candidates this year. The city is running on a deficit budget, largely due to smaller revenues from decreased interest rates.

Council candidates have proposed different ways of handling this issue.

Aaronson and Eldridge propose cutting the budget to make it balance without increasing the city's mill rate.

Bannock has also come out against raising the mill rate, and advocated for budget cuts, although not drastic ones, during the council's budget process.

During the budget process, Swarner supported some budget cuts and a mill rate increase.

Osborne supports a mill rate increase if the city is to continue to provide the same level of services.

The number of candidates voters have to choose from is high this year. In last year's election, four candidates competed for a two-year seat while two other candidates ran unopposed for two three-year seats.

"Last year we had a goodly amount (of candidates)," said Kenai City Clerk Carol Freas. "We have had years where it has just been the status quo without any opposition. In the last couple of years, it has been a little bit more active."

Freas said the heightened level of interest in participating in the council may have to do with other issues going on in the election year.

Last year, for instance, the private prison issue motivated more people than usual to vote and may have had the same motivational effect on people running for the city council.

The borough ballot initiative to exempt sales taxes from nonprepared food items may be having a similar effect this year. Bannock and Swarner voted with the rest of the council to enact an ordinance that allows Kenai to continue to collect its 3 percent sales tax on grocery items, even if the borough initiative is voted into law. Eldridge and Osborne have said they are against the exemption as well. Aaronson is the only council candidate who has supported it.

Interest in the sales tax initiative could help bring a larger than usual amount of voters to the polls this year. The race for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor could contribute to a high voter participation as well. Voter interest in these two issues may well translate into a high voter participation for the Kenai election.

"Normally that helps the turnout," Freas said. "While voting for the mayor, if people live in the city they vote the city ballot at the same time. I think that has some effect on it anyway."

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