It was a one-man show with a one-topic focus at Thursday’s meeting of the Rotary Club of Homer-Kachemak Bay. However, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre took advantage of luncheon gathering to answer questions in addition to the details he provided on of Proposition No. 2.
As it’s worded on the ballot, the proposition asks voters, “Shall the Kenai Peninsula Borough borrow up to $22,987,000 through the issuance of educational capital improvement general obligation bonds?”
If passed by voters in the Oct. 1 municipal election, the bond project will repair 10 school roofs for $21 million and install a turf field at Homer High School for $2 million. The work would be scheduled over a three-year period, beginning in 2014 and ending in 2016.
It comprises the second phase of work begun after voters approved a similar proposition in 2010. Work done in Phase I totaled $17 million.
With the Oct. 1 election quickly approaching, Navarre said it was decided Rotary Clubs were a good place to give presentations on the proposition because “they’re involved in the community and will get the word out.”
“I’m not supposed to advocate for or against it, but will tell you how I’m voting on it and give information why it makes good sense,” said Navarre of the school bond proposition.
Phase II is includes work on roofs dating back 46 years, to be done as follows:
2014: Roof work for Kenai Alternative High, Kenai Middle, Skyview High and Tustumena Elementary schools, and a turf field for Homer High School;
2015: Homer Middle, Kenai Central High, Paul Banks Elementary and Soldotna Middle schools;
2016: Ninilchik and Soldotna High schools.
All the projects on the list, including the turf field for Homer High, have been approved for the state of Alaska Debt Reimbursement Program, which funds 70 percent of school bonds, leaving the borough a 30 percent, or $472,350 obligation.
“The last time I was (borough) mayor, I spent $5 million on roof repairs in the three years I was mayor. That was all on the borough’s dime,” said Navarre. “This is only 30 percent.”
Questioned whether the reimbursement was subject to appropriation, Navarre said his research showed “every time except one the state has honored it obligation,” said Navarre.
In addition to the 70 percent reimbursement by the state, Navarre listed other benefits of the project:
• Energy measures built into the project plans would result in an estimated annual savings of $286,291;
• The identified roofs have exceeded their expected useful life and need repairs;
• The new roof systems include a 20-year warranty and will cost less to maintain.
Regarding the new turf field for Homer, Navarre said turf fields offer lower maintenance costs, extend the season for use by schools and communities and are safer for athletes. Preparation for Homer’s turf field was done in 2012 with drainage improvements addressed at the same tine the new track was constructed.
Navarre said the borough included turf fields for Homer and Soldotna high schools in capital project funding request submitted to the 2013 Legislature. However, it was not included in the capital budget passed by the Senate.
“I was able to help legislators lobby to get funds on the House side, but couldn’t get the full amount,” said Navarre. “We requested $3.6 million and were able to get $1.5 million.”
Without enough funding to do both fields, Navarre asked the Finance Committee to remove Homer to avoid misconceptions that both fields could be done for the decreased amount. He said he advised Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, of his decision, saying, “We’ll come back next year and request the additional amount.” Afterwards, Navarre learned of the possibility of bonding and taking advantage of the state’s reimbursement program.
“I’ve spoken with Soldotna and Kenai and they all are in support of this project,” he said. “They’re not just advocates for their communities. It’s a bigger picture for the whole borough.”
First, however, the proposition needs voters’ approval on Oct. 1.
“Whether you’re in favor or in opposition to the bonds or other issues on the ballot, have a good local turnout,” he said. “It’s important to the community and important to your responsibility as citizens.”
Former Homer Mayor Jim Hornaday recognized Navarre’s support of the southern peninsula.
“We’re usually on the short end of the stick, but Mike has been very helpful getting that corrected,” said Hornaday. “I wasn’t happy when he pulled (the turf field) out, but hopefully it turns out well. He’s been very helpful in a number of projects down here.”
Responding to Hornaday’s comment, Navarre said, “Let me make it clear. I did not pull out the money. We only got $1.5 million put in. I made a commitment to work to get the turf project built. I’m an advocate for it. It’s a good investment in both the school and the community.”
On another topic, Rotarian Will Files asked for Navarre’s comments on the benefit of developing recreational service areas, specifically one for the southern peninsula. Navarre pointed to the North Peninsula Recreation Service Area whose boundaries encompass much of the borough’s oil and natural gas activities.
“They were very smart when they set that out and put their arms around as big a tax base as they could,” said Navarre.
“Are you saying then that we really don’t have a tax base here to pull something off for a recreational service area?” said Files.
Navarre said he believed the southern peninsula does have the tax base, but also recognized the number of mill levies already existing on the southern peninsula, including the South Peninsula Hospital and Kachemak Emergency service areas. He also noted his interest in seeing a borough-wide recreation area developed.
However, Navarre said, “If you want to form a service area, I wouldn’t stand in your way.”
Bill Smith, who represents Homer on the Borough Assembly, raised an issue relating to Ballot Proposition No. 1, increasing the residential property exemption for qualifying taxpayers from $20,000 to $50,000. Specifically, Smith questioned serial tax exemptions for seniors, that they receive a $300,000 senior exemption in addition to the $20,000, or $50,000 if the Proposition 1 passes.
“I think that needs to be part of the larger conversation; not just target seniors, but look at the entire tax code and get everyone upset at the same time,” said Navarre, drawing a laugh.
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.