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Cooper Landing takes first step toward emergency service area

The Cooper Landing Emergency Services volunteer-based department.
Riley Board
The Cooper Landing Emergency Services volunteer-based department.

Cooper Landing is taking its first steps toward creating a formal emergency service area — which would be funded by local taxes. After decades of operating as a volunteer-run non-profit on a shoestring budget, local emergency responders are excited about the possibility. But some borough officials aren’t sure a service area is the best option.

Cooper Landing Emergency Services, or CLES, runs off donations and volunteers.

Clay Adam is a paramedic and the EMS Chief at Cooper Landing Emergency Services. He says that even though the community has been supportive, a donation-based budget just isn’t sustainable in the long term.

“As we continue to look forward as a department, when we look at the long term viability, we have to look at revenue streams: What is it going to take for this department to maintain the level of service we provide currently?” he said.

Adam said the CLES budget doubled in the last three years, and that’s just for essentials: fuel, heating, maintenance and supplies. Adam says grants, which help cover costs, require more and more effort, and pay out less funding than ever. And donations just won’t sustain the needs of the department into the future.

That’s what made CLES interested in becoming a service area, a formalized fire and emergency service region paid for by tax revenue levied by the borough.

Adam said that tax burden is top of mind.

“We looked at and researched a number of different avenues before we ventured down the road of becoming a service area, because we realize it’s an additional burden on our community,” he said.

The process of creating a service area can start by petition, or by a resolution in the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, which assembly member Cindy Ecklund introduced at its Tuesday meeting.

Ecklund’s proposal met some resistance from Nikiski Assembly Member Peter Ribbens and Mayor Peter Micciche. They suggested alternatives to the service area model because of the frequent tourist traffic through the Cooper Landing area.

“I personally don’t feel like the people of the Kenai should be solely responsible for the 20,000 vehicle weekend that traverse the Sterling Highway,” Micciche said. “Where we’re responsible for paying for that response.”

But CLES staff turned out in strong support of the resolution. Most assembly members agreed this would only be a first step that will allow Cooper Landing residents to settle the question for themselves. The resolution passed with only one ‘no’ vote, from Ribbens.

Adam said he knows this is just the beginning. In the coming months, he’s hoping to make his case to voters that it would be worthwhile to create the service area.

“We’re not here asking for the world: we’re simply here asking for a minimum amount to keep our lights on, and to continue to maintain the level of service that we provide currently to our community.”

In order for the idea to move forward, it has to get on a Mayor’s report, make it to a public meeting held within the service area, and then get passed as an ordinance.

If the proposal makes it through those next steps, it will go on the ballot for Cooper Landing voters in October.

Riley Board is a Report For America participant and senior reporter at KDLL covering rural communities on the central Kenai Peninsula.
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