Question: How serious are Nikiski residents about their future?
Answer: Very serious.
Judging from the standing-room-only crowd at Thursday night's meeting, they definitely mean business. And pulled in by their concerns are state and borough officials, a newly enlisted legal adviser and the residents of Tyonek on the west side of Cook Inlet.
Incorporation was the hot topic of the meeting chaired by Nikiski's representative on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, Jack Brown. The desire to guide their future was the common thread, but the route they'll choose is far from decided.
"There's always someone or something that pushes something like this," said Red Aldredge, who has lived in Nikiski 32 years. "Who is it? How does this help us? There has to be a reason."
Brown listed four reasons favoring incorporation: the desire of Nikiski residents to control their own destiny, increased attention to public safety issues of road maintenance and police protection, and additional economic opportunities that would result in the creation of additional employment opportunities.
But that didn't satisfy Aldredge.
"My questions weren't answered," he said. "When I raised my hand again, (Brown) said, 'Let's get someone over there.' I looked around and there wasn't another hand up. He didn't want me to talk."
Aldredge fears incorporation will increase taxes and place a heavy financial burden on small-business owners.
"When a city comes in, we'll have borough taxes and city taxes," he said. "What would I get out of that? The deal is, these people are not thinking anything about the small businessman. I believe in the working man, the guy that's out there mashing his fingers, doing all the work. If they want to hear from the little man, let the little man have his speech."
What did Aldredge want Brown to hear?
"I'd have said, 'You people go ahead and make it a city and let all us small businesses be city-tax free.' I'd have nailed him with that," said Aldredge, who owns Red's Machine Shop. "But it won't make any difference because it takes pennies to make a dollar. The little man's the pennies."
Brown, who was part of a group that considered incorporation in 1991, was encouraged by the attendance at the meeting.
"We looked at doing this a few years ago, but we have dozens of people more now that want to help out," he said.
A second meeting, immediately following the first one, was for individuals interested in forming a committee to explore the viability of incorporation.
"I only expected 10 people to stick around, but we had 30 people," Brown said.
Calling this attempt at incorporation "the best shot we've had at it," Brown said, "The more people we get educated on it, the more people will be interested in at least exploring and going to the next step. One thing I envision is that we'll have volunteers that'll sit eight hours a day at a convenient spot in Nikiski with information to go over on a one-on-one basis, so people can ask every question they have. If we're going to be successful, we'll have to convince people one to one."
Representing Alaska's Department of Community and Economic Development at the Thursday meeting were Gene Kane, local government specialist, and Steve Van Sant, state assessor. Kane compared the Nikiski proposal to activities in municipalities around the state and plotted a trend away from city incorporation (See related stories, page A-1).Van Sant provided information on the tax base within the proposed city boundaries.
The designated area matches the Nikiski Fire Service Area, reaching across Cook Inlet and encompassing the 160 residents of Tyonek. Tyonek village council secretary Angela Sandstol said that as far as she knew, the village had not been contacted by anyone involved in the incorporation effort.
"If anything shows up, it'll be presented at our next council meeting on
the second Wednesday of December," Sandstol said. "I guess we'll just see."
Vicki Pate, a Nikiski resident since 1985, was part of the Thursday night crowd.
"I think people are used to looking to government to solve their
problems," she said. "Whenever they see there are problems, they say, 'Well,
we need government to fix this. Since the borough won't fix it, then we'll
have our own government.'"
But the former Kenai resident said becoming a city isn't the answer.
"I don't think we need another layer of government to watch over us and for which we are responsible for watching," she said. "I think people that came out to Nikiski, at least our family, moved out here because we didn't want the level of regulation and taxation and rules and things that we had when we lived in Soldotna or Kenai. And for that, we were willing to not have the same level of services."
She said people support incorporation "because they don't realize there are other options that might work for this area. I think there are ways of providing the services through free market rather than through the government."
Pate handed others at the meeting two small slips of paper, one a test prepared by Advocates for Self-Government Inc., and a second for recording names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses. By Friday morning, Pate was coordinating a study group for anyone interested in exploring alternatives to incorporation.
"It's going to be an interesting process," said Brown, summing up the work his community has ahead of it.
"It's going to boil down to the numbers," he said. "I guess I would say I'm cautiously optimistic."
Individuals wishing to study alternatives to incorporation will meet at the Nikiski Senior Center at 6 p.m. Thursday. For more information, call Pate at 776-8926.
Individuals interested in serving on the incorporation committee will meet at the Nikiski Senior Center at 6 p.m. Dec. 14.
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