Votes will fill three seats on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly on Oct. 3, but only the race for District 1 pits competing candidates.
In the other two, incumbents are running unopposed.
Dan Chay, of Kenai, who decided earlier this summer not to seek a second term, currently holds the seat from District 1, the Kalifornsky district. Filing to run for the three-year seat Chay will vacate were former Alaska House member Kelly J. Wolf, of Soldotna, and Kenai business owner Gary A. Knopp, of Kenai.
Meanwhile, current assembly President Ron Long, of Seward, is running unopposed for re-election to a third term in his District 6 (East Peninsula) seat. He was previously elected in 2000 and 2003.
Also running unchallenged is assembly member Milli Martin, of Diamond Ridge, who holds the District 9 seat (South Peninsula). Martin was first elected in 2000 but redistricting required her to seek re-election in 2002 and again in 2003.
In the District 1 race, Gary Knopp, of Kenai, has been a resident of Alaska for 26 years. He has no previous elected experience.
He is a member of the Civil Air Patrol and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and lists his occupation as self-employed excavation contractor.
Knopp said there were many issues important to peninsula residents, such as property taxes, the impact and necessity of tourism, a need to make local vocational training opportunities more available, and rising budgets. But he also said that no pet issue was driving his campaign.
Rather, he said, he has reached a stage in life where he has the time for community service. Chay’s decision not to run simply presented the opportunity.
Asked why District 1 voters should elect him and not his opponent, Knopp said he’d been hearing that question a lot. He, responded this way:
“People need to interview both candidates and decide for themselves who is best for the job,” he said.
Kelly J. Wolf
Kelly Wolf, of Soldotna, has lived on the peninsula since 1975. He is a graduate of Kenai Central High School. He lists his occupation as grant writer.
Wolf sought and won election to the Alaska House of Representatives in 2002, but served only one term. He said he had no desire to return to “that circus.”
He has also served as a member of the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisor Committee, and is the chairman of the Youth Restoration Corps, a nonprofit organization he started.
Wolf said he felt strongly that the assembly needed some fresh ideas, some new blood, and that he was ready to “give back” to the community. Self-employment, launching and running a nonprofit, and a term in the state House and a degree “form the University of Hard Knocks” have made him qualified to sit on the assembly, he said.
Like Knopp, Wolf said there was no particular issue that set him on the campaign trail, except that he believes the borough has a bright future “and I want to be part of it.”
He acknowledged having “some reservations” about the current administration and the assembly. He promised not to be a rubber stamp.
Incumbent Ron Long is completing his second full three-year term. Prior to that, Long served eight years on the Seward Port and Commerce Advisory Board.
He has lived in Alaska for almost 18 years, and works as an operations manager for a boat tour company. He is a marine surveyor, and has served as a shellfish hatchery director.
Quality of life and budget issues will be the assembly’s biggest challenge over the next few years, Long said, adding that it will be critical to identify the services residents deem essential, which are desirable, and which they might care to do without.
“The question becomes, what level of quality of life are our borough citizens willing to pay for?” Long said.
The borough, like every other municipality in the state, will continue to face rising obligations to public employee and teacher retirement programs. Some 40 cents out of every dollar spent by the borough government will go to people who no longer work for the borough. That’s a constitutional and state statute mandate that cannot be avoided.
Ironically, Long noted, the total unfunded retirement obligation statewide is roughly equal to the amount to be issued this year in Alaska Permanent Fund dividend checks. Were folks willing to give them up for a year, the state’s debt to the retirement systems could be paid off.
That being unlikely, Long said the state Legislature “has to come through and pick up a big chunk of this (municipal retirement debt load) or else municipalities around the state will start turning out the lights.”
Incumbent Milli Martin, a 26-year resident of Alaska, said she hoped the fact she was facing no challenger indicates she is doing a good job and meeting the expectations of her constituents in the far-flung district that stretches from Anchor Point to Nanwalek, excluding Homer and Kachemak City.
Martin has a long history of service in public office. She’s been a member of the Kenai Peninsula Board of Education (1982-85 and 1986-89). She served on the Kachemak Bay Advisory Planning Commission from 1996 to 2000. She was first elected to the assembly in 2000. Redistricting required her to run again in 2002 and 2003.
Controlling costs will be critical for the new assembly, Martin said, in part because two key obligations driving budgets upward are virtually unavoidable: Employee retirement debt and healthcare.
Martin said she hoped the borough would be able to fully fund education next year, as it has in the past. But a lot will depend on what state lawmakers do next year.
“We are at the mercy of the state,” she said.
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