School Funding

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly Members Unanimously Support Funding for School Improvements and Emergency Services

Several important items moved to the consent agenda at the June 21 meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly.

In particular, the members of the assembly adopted an ordinance which allocates nearly $400,000 to replace and upgrade the hot water system for the Southern Peninsula Hospital. They also passed a resolution that manage hazards and provide safe transportation to the Lowell Point communityoutside of Seward, which experienced a May 7 landslide that blocked road access.

Many items on the meeting’s agenda dealt with fire mitigation and emergency services, including an order to support forest management efforts for areas affected by spruce bark beetles, and another approving nearly $23,000 for arson assistance on the Kenai Peninsula. The agenda also included an order for $700,000 update the peninsula’s emergency siren warning system, which alerts community members during tsunamis or earthquakes.

Assembly members also passed a resolution on Tuesday authorizing the acquisition of goods on behalf of the central emergency services for a replacement fire station.

Following the consent agenda, the first item in the Public Hearings section of the meeting was an order to issue over $65 million in bonds to pay for education improvements across the borough.

Assemblyman Tyson Cox described several initiatives the funds would be used for. These include a reconstruction of Soldotna Elementary School, improvements to the entrance to Homer High School, and athletic upgrades for Seward and Nikiski.

The ordinance received overwhelming support from even some of the most fiscally conservative members of the Assembly, such as Assemblyman Bill Elam.

“I’m not a big fan of bonds and debt and I don’t accept more payments, just in general,” Elam said. “But, I’ve been to a lot of those schools now. And we really need to address some of these issues.

The ordinance is passed unanimously. From now on, the question of issuing bonds will be posed to the voters of the peninsula during the ballot on October 4.

Other items which received unanimous approval included orders relating to remuneration of urban planning commissioners and the confirmation of four new appointments to the Planning Commission. The new appointees are Michael Horton (District 4-Soldotna), Virginia Morgan (District 6-East Peninsula), Christine Hutchison (District 7-Central Peninsula) and Dawson Slaughter (District 9-South Peninsula).

The only item without unanimous approval was an order authorizing a 25-year lease option for Utopian Power to develop a 40-acre solar farm. The proposed solar farm would be built on top of a former Sterling landfill site.

Assemblyman Cox criticized the independent power producer’s record and called for a vote on the ordinance to be postponed.

“I watched [them] on the state website and Utopian Power LLC is a non-compliant LLC at this point,” Cox said. “We also asked them what their plans were. And so far, the only project they have completed is a one-megawatt solar farm. Not two, not two to six. They didn’t even know what they were going to do. I just think there are a lot more questions than answers.

Elam preferred to go ahead with the project. He said the land is currently costing the borough money and he wants to use that land.

“It’s on an old dump,” he said. “So I don’t know if we would be able to make a fair assessment based on the fact that you really can’t use the pitch. They do everything on the surface, rather than being able to dig in because of the liners.

The ordinance ultimately passed by a vote of 7 to 2, with assembly members Bjorkman and Cox voting “no”.

Thanks to the new lease, the borough will receive a 12% royalty on the project’s gross revenues, in addition to an annual rent of $10,000.

Utopian Power says it would like to start construction on the project within the next three years.

The next regular meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will be held July 5 in Soldotna or via ZOOM.

You can also listen to the meeting on KBBI AM 890 or stream it live on KBBI.org