The Kenai and Soldotna city councils both filled council vacancies last night, appointing Victoria Askin in Kenai and Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings in Soldotna.
Askin, a 35-year resident of Kenai, is a technician at Hilcorp. Before that, she worked for Marathon and Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response, Inc." class="wysiwyg-break drupal-content" src="/sites/all/modules/contrib/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif" title="<--break-->">
Askin’s interest in local government started when she was a kid. She was a representative for her school’s branch of Future Farmers for America and 4-H. In the late ’90s, she transcribed minutes for commission meetings in Kenai.
“And I just was always interested in it," she said. "But I still had small kids at home, and once they got older, then I signed onto the Harbor Commission.”
She served for seven years on the Kenai Harbor Commission. Now, she’s on the Cook Inlet Harbor Safety Committee and Kenai Planning and Zoning Commission.
Askin was thinking of running for city council next year. When the vacancy opened, she took a chance.
“My history is fairly varied," she said. "I started off working in a law firm and then, when we came to Alaska, I worked at the mental health center, at Central Peninsula Counseling Services. And then I went into oil spill response, and then I went to an oil company. So I guess I can say that I feel I’m diverse, I’m fairly diverse and can understand things from different aspects of society.”
Some of her priorities are working with Kenai’s homeless population and helping the seniors and young families that have been hard hit by COVID-19.
Soldotna City Council newcomer Farnsworth-Hutchings is well known on the peninsula from her deep roots growing up in Soldotna. She also bid unsuccessfully for Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor, in 2017 and 2020.
“I am definitely very pro the peninsula, pro tourism, pro gas and oil, and I come from a commercial fishing family," she said. "So you have all of that rolled into one.”
Farnsworth-Hutchings is the accountant for Hutchings Auto Group. She’s on the borough’s Health Care Task Force and spent years on both the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board and Soldotna Parks and Recreation Commission.
She was part of the commission that drew up a successful home-rule charter for Soldotna in 2016. She’s proud of the work she did to gather signatures and work with the commission.
“I’m really good at getting people together," she said.
Farnsworth-Hutchings said she’s excited about the broader scope of change she can enact on the city council. As an accountant, she said the city is making smart moves financially.
“To be honest with you, I don’t see a problem area with the finances with the city of Soldotna," she said. "If you look at our mill rate for our city, it’s half a mill.”
In Soldotna, there is 50 cents in property taxes levied per $1,000 of a property’s value. For comparison, Kenai’s mill rate is 4.35 and Homer’s is 4.50.
“They’ve had some great city managers that have been frugal, invest well," she said. "I know they’ve redone some of their investments so that their costs are down. I just think that they are in a very, very solid position.”
City council seats are usually filled in elections but vacancies go to council votes.
The Kenai City Council seat opened when Robert Peterkin resigned last month. Wednesday night, the city council heard from eight other candidates, including former councilman Tim Navarre; Michael Boyle, a retired educator and former councilman; and Shelby Oden, owner of Little Alaskan children’s store in Kenai.
Paul Whitney’s Soldotna seat opened when he became mayor in October. Other applicants for the position were Micah Shields, co-owner of Small Town Coffee Roasters; Erick Hugarte, who moved to Soldotna from Texas in 2009; and Keagan Koski, a senior at River City Academy.
Both Askin and Farnsworth-Hutchings will serve partial terms ending in October 2021, with an option for reelection.