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The city of Kenai has rolled out another way to boost businesses through the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s now taking applications for grants to help with online marketing and e-commerce.

“As they look to recover, marketing is going to be a key element to bringing folks into the door or growing their business, so we felt that this was something that folks probably were going to need and this was, we felt, an innovative way to get money out into the community for that specific purpose, said City Manager Paul Ostrander.

The marketing grants are $1,000 for businesses located in the city that have experienced a loss of sales or changes in their operations due to the pandemic.

The money can be spent to build or redesign websites, develop systems for online sales, expand social media marketing, improve search engine optimization or anything along those lines.

The money can’t be spent just anywhere, though. Businesses must work with Divining Point, LLC, which provides website and online marketing services in Alaska and Texas. Divining Point had a contract to update the city’s logo and marketing. Ostrander said the city issued a request for proposals for a company to do the marketing work for the grant program and Divining Point was the only proposal received.

Businesses can develop their own scope of work with Divining Point. Once the $1,000 grant is spent, they can choose to pay for additional work, or not. Applications are due Nov. 6 and the money must be spent by the end of the year.

Overdue fines are being assessed into history at the Soldotna Public Library. The Soldotna City Council voted Wednesday to approve an action item allowing the library to waive fees as long as an item is returned.

Library director Rachel Nash said this is a trend sweeping libraries across the nation.

“Over the last couple decades, public libraries in America have really been moving toward going fine-free. It’s become more and more apparent that they do not serve the purpose that they were originally used for, which is to encourage people to return items on time. Rather, they’re actually discouraging people from returning items or coming back at all because they’re afraid of these fines,” Nash said.

Kenai Community Library

Kids can dig into a good book and a good meal a little longer at the Kenai Community Library.

The library has been distributing lunches since June 1, through a partnership with the Food Bank of Alaska. Anyone 18 and under, or parents of kids, can stop by the library from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and pick up lunch to go or call from the drive-through and someone will bring lunch out to the vehicle.

The program was set to end today but James Adcox, children’s librarian, says it’s been extended until Aug. 21, the last weekday before school starts.

“We asked the Food Bank of Alaska to get permission to do that and they approved that, just to fill a community need. And we felt like the need was there and the need is still there to do it as long as we can until school starts,” Adcox said.

Adcox doesn’t have numbers for August yet but says the library provided lunch to over 350 kids in June and July. And not just PB and J.

“In every meal pack there is a milk and then there’s always some protein and an additional dairy product,” Adcox said. “They had chicken bites and there’s a beef jerky one. There’s a cheese stick with a beef stick. And then there’s always sunflower seeds and some additional, like applesauce. There’s a chicken salad spread with crackers, so a variety of different meals. I think we had 14 different meals that we were distributing.”

Anna DeVolld

The 30th annual Caring for the Kenai program ended up finishing virtually, given the coronavirus pandemic, but the winning projects will make real-world differences.

The program usually ends in April with students giving their presentations and standing for questions from judges. But that part was put on hold until August, with the final judging happening over videoconferencing Aug. 6.

“We did a lot of planning, a lot of thinking and we had a lot of ideas of what we wanted to do for our 30th anniversary and, of course, everything changed. And this shows how the real-world experience of Caring for the Kenai helps the next generation change. And what you’ve learned from this, what we’ve learned from this, gives us all a lot of hope for the future,” said Merrill Sikorski, program founder and director.

Caring for the Kenai challenges high school students to come up with a project to better care for the environment of the Kenai Peninsula or improve the area’s preparedness for a natural disaster. Finalists and their schools get cash prizes. Students can participate with the same project more than once but repeat entries are judged on what they’ve done to further their project in the last year, rather than the initial idea.

City of Soldotna

The city of Soldotna — and areas that might become part of Soldotna — will have to wait a little longer to see if the state of Alaska Local Boundary Commission will approve the city’s petition to annex 2.63 square miles of surrounding territory.

The commission held meetings last week over Zoom conferencing, hearing the city’s presentation and public testimony for over four hours Tuesday, then debating the issue for just about another four hours Wednesday.  

After all that, the commission postponed its decision until legal issues could be further researched.

LBC staff found that Soldotna’s petition met the bar for annexation — that it would be in the best interest of the state in shifting services to the city, the proposed areas fit the character of current city boundaries and that the city would be able to offer services to the new areas.

City Manager Stephanie Queen said they’re looking to incorporate a modest amount of territory. If approved, she said Soldotna would grow to about 10 square miles and still only be about a third the size of an average Alaska city.

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