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Candidate Views: Kenai City Council, 1-year term: Lewis: Growth, PERS top priorities

Kenai City Council One-Year Term

Posted: Thursday, September 28, 2006

The upcoming year is an important one for the City of Kenai. The coming of Wal-Mart and Lowe’s will bring big changes. We are facing a potentially overwhelming debt because of the Public Employees Retirement System. And the school district will be deciding the future of the schools we have in Kenai. As a member of the city council, these issues will be my top priorities.

Wal-Mart and Lowe’s

Wal-Mart and Lowe’s offer our city some exciting possibilities. The city is expected to receive $1 million in additional sales tax from these stores. Small business owners that I have talked to believe the increased traffic from these stores will improve their businesses. And residents will have a new place to shop and buy items that they can’t buy locally now. If done correctly, the addition of Wal-Mart and Lowe’s could be a boon to our community.

There are some concerns, though, that need to be addressed. The design of the buildings needs to be appropriate and the traffic they attract needs to be managed. There are residential neighborhoods near the proposed Wal-Mart site and we need to ensure that people who live in those areas are not unduly impacted.

Kenai is a unique community and people live here because of our high quality of life. Time will bring change, but we need to make sure that change is progress. Wal-Mart and Lowe’s bring new possibilities to our city, but we owe it to ourselves to ensure that these new stores fit into our community and serve our needs.

The Public Employees Retirement System

This may not seem like an exciting issue, but the money we owe to PERS could shape the future of Kenai for the next 25 years more than anything else. The city has a $17 million debt in PERS. If nothing changes, our payments to PERS will increase approximately $1.5 million next year. That translates to almost a 4 mill increase in property taxes. The current property tax rate is 4.5 mills, so property owners could see their taxes almost double if the PERS issue is not fixed.

The city is not to blame for this mess and almost all other municipalities and school districts in Alaska are in the same situation because of errors made by the state. The state needs to fix this problem and as a member of the city council I will work with city officials and representatives from other municipalities to make sure the Legislature understands the seriousness of this issue.

Kenai Schools

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District will be making important decisions about the future of Kenai’s schools this year. The city council does not have a direct say on these matters, but as a city councilman it will be my responsibility to make sure the wishes of the community are heard.

The impetus behind these new discussions is charter schools. Kenai now has two public charter schools and finding space for these schools has become a problem. As a founding member of Kaleidoscope Charter School, I am intimately aware of these issues. I believe that offering educational choice for parents and children is good for our community. Good schools attract families and allow our city to grow.

I also am aware, though, that people feel passionate about schools and change can lead to hard feelings. I am concerned that the decisions we make about our schools will drive a wedge into our community. I am committed to finding a resolution that is good for children and families and that allows our community to move forward together.

I appreciate your vote on Oct. 3.



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