Saying the city can no longer rely on others to promote economic development within the city, Kenai Mayor John Williams called upon his city council to take steps to lure new businesses into town.
"Economic development for the next 15 years or more lies with this council," he said. "If our philosophy is to continue aggressive development, we have to do it ourselves. I believe it's our job to do that."
The mayor hinted that the group rumored to be considering construction of a new 50-room hotel in Soldotna first approached Kenai as a possible locale.
"It's not a shame on us, but we have to go and find it," Williams said. "There are some good projects out there."
'We have to be aggressive. It's time to sit down and determine wht is worth spending money on.
John Williams, Kenai Mayor
He said another group is planning an assisted living center in the central Kenai Peninsula, but not in Kenai, as the city did not do enough to court it.
"We have to be aggressive. It's time to sit down and determine what is worth spending money on," he said.
Williams suggested setting up a planner's office in city hall to assume some of the duties of the city's economic development office that was closed when the borough formed the Economic Development District.
"A planner would cost $100,000 to set up, and it would be an investment on a one-time basis to see if it works," he said. "There are opportunities out there that we are missing."
Williams said he has heard of three major retailers who are looking for retail space in the central peninsula.
"Unless we go to them, they are not going to come to the city of Kenai," he said.
The mayor would not say who the retailers are, but said they had offices in Anchorage, Portland, Ore., and Phoenix.
Council member Linda Swarner agreed with Williams that economic development begins with the council.
"I suggest we meet in a retreat format to discuss economic development," she said.
The council took no action on the topic.
In other council news:
n A month after it passed a local buying preference policy, the council approved the purchase of two items from out of town. The library and police departments got approval to spend more than $3,000 each on projectors. When asked if the same items were available in the area, the city manager said they were, but at greatly increased cost. The multimedia projector for the library was reportedly $2,000 more locally, while the police department's projector was $500 more.
Williams said when prices are that much higher, the city was forced to purchase out of town to protect the taxpayers of the city.
He gave an example from his own experience.
"I went to purchase a valve for a water closet and it was $37 locally. I found the exact same thing, same packaging, same valve, same item for $17 in Anchorage," he said. "I love to shop locally, but I will not shop locally when they charge over 100 percent more."
Council member Duane Bannock said the council does not know what the circumstances are surrounding the higher local prices, and they should not be labeled as out of line.
Williams persisted, though.
"When they are more than double, it's out of line," he said;
n The council voted 6-1 to approve the sale of an $11,000 residential lot in the Evergreen subdivision for $9,500 cash to Jerry Stock of New Castle Builders. Council member Joe Moore was the dissenting vote.
"I would be a hypocrite to support this," he said.
Moore voted no on a similar cash discount sale in the Inlet Woods subdivision last month.
Williams, who voted with the majority, explained his vote when he noted the city had years of litigation costs tied up in Inlet Woods, and the land had just come on the market early this summer, while the land in Evergreen has been available for years. He also noted the city has sold Stock land in the past;
n The council had no objection to the vacation of an unused right of way through Kenai Native Association land in Old Town;
n The council declared construction of the city's fourth water well as its top capital improvement project for the application of a Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation grant;
n The council appropriated $225,000 for a sewer line relocation on Mission Street, west of Main Street, where the existing sewer main is in danger of falling over the bluff. Public Works Director Keith Kornelis said a new lift station and service lines from several structures in that area will need to be constructed. The old sewer main, once isolated from the system, will be abandoned in place;
n The council approved a special-use permit with Alaska Call Connection to place a prepaid calling card machine in the Kenai Municipal Airport. The city will receive 25 percent of the company's gross receipts for the exclusive contract;
n Swarner said the carpet and decorating choices for the airport terminal would come before the council at its Oct. 4 meeting;
n Swarner asked the city administration to look into enacting a service charge for Internet access in the city.
The next council meeting is Oct. 4.
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