Kenai hopefuls talk natural gas, PERS

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2006

A good drink of water, natural gas for industry and preparing the way for Wal-Mart and Lowe’s are among key issues concerning candidates for the Kenai City Council.

Two of the candidates, Richard Ross and Robert Molloy, are incumbents and running unopposed to retain their seats on the council.

Candidates Barry Eldridge and Anthony Lewis are vying to fill the remaining one-year term vacated by Cliff Massie, who resigned for health reasons.

When asked what the biggest single issue is facing Kenai right now, Ross said, “In the long term, it’s natural gas. In the short term, it’s funding PERS (Public Employee Retirement System).

“Everybody at the table has a piece of the (natural gas) puzzle,” Ross said. “We need to make sure the political and industrial interests are involved in the solution.”

Molloy said he went to the homes of as many voters as he could and learned people wanted better drinking water, the extension of water and sewer services and improved city roads.

“To address these capital improvement needs, a big issue is financing, and the city’s finances are now burdened by the additional PERS liability imposed by the retirement board,” Molloy said.

When asked what the city council could do to solve the problems, he said, “The city needs to do long-range capital improvement planning, with significant input from the public, and without a short-term panic reaction to the burden imposed by the new PERS rates set by the state.

“For example, in past years of apparent budget crisis, such as when Kmart left, the city over-reacted, privatizing the (Kenai) Rec Center, which caused serious division in our community.

Then Home Depot came and sales tax increased, so the city’s short-term solution was unnecessary.

“Let’s avoid short-term solutions that create division,” Molloy said.

He also said the city needs to “band together with other municipalities and lobby the state to fully fund this year’s PERS increase.”

Lewis said he believes Kenai needs to work with other municipalities — and with the school district — to solve the PERS problem.

“It needs to have a state fix,” he said, adding, as a council, the city needs to talk to state legislators to create a solution.

Another big issue facing Kenai is the coming of Wal-Mart and Lowe’s, Lewis said.

He said the council needs to keep an eye on the design of the retail buildings and monitor how the businesses work into the community.

Ross also mentioned Wal-Mart and Lowe’s as being issues facing Kenai.

When asked if he believed Kenai has enough affordable housing for the large number of employees the giant retailers will require, Ross said, “A substantial number of those employees are secondary income workers — retirees and part-time workers.

“That combined with the apartments we have available ... we’ll have to see what happens,” he said.

“It’s not like we’re throwing up a plant and need to find housing for a couple hundred people,” Ross said.

Eldridge did not return phone calls seeking his comments for this article.

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