Kenai Peninsula Borough

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding the Kenai Peninsula Borough with a competitive grant to create a community-wide composting project, making it possible for more individuals and businesses on the central peninsula to send their organic waste to farms instead of landfills.

“Oh man, I’m so excited about this project," said Kaitlin Vadla, regional director for Cook Inletkeeper. "It’s a huge win for the borough and for our area. It’s hard to get these big national grants. And so the fact that we got it is really exciting.”

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The last of the absentee ballots are in and all votes have now been tabulated for this year’s Kenai Peninsula elections.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

When it comes to its new voting machines, the borough is making a list and checking it twice.

Teri Birchfield and Linda Cusack with the canvass board were running through a checklist of tests Thursday morning on one of the borough's new Dominion Voting Systems machines.

They said most voters won’t register the new technology when they come in to cast their ballots. But for voters with disabilities, it could be game changing.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor and several members of the assembly want to publicly denounce what they call “vaccine segregation” from the government.

Resolution 2021-067, set to be introduced at next week’s assembly meeting, says the borough encourages people to get the COVID-19 vaccine. But, the resolution says, the assembly and borough administration “Do not support government-mandated restrictions imposing mandated COVID-19 vaccine segregation in our community.”

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is bringing in $5 million more in sales tax revenue than it forecasted in the early days of the pandemic, with an estimated $30.3 million coming in for fiscal year 2021.

Mitch Michaud

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the Kenai Peninsula Borough have submitted a funding request to address spruce bark beetle kill on the peninsula — the latest effort to curb the ongoing beetle kill crisis that’s destroyed spruce forests across Southcentral. 

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Besides the urban centers in Kenai, Soldotna, Homer and Seward, most people on the Kenai Peninsula live pretty close to areas that could be vulnerable to wildfire. The borough is looking to update a plan on how to help reduce risk and deal with fire when it breaks out.Next week, the borough administration will be hosting open houses and informational meetings across the peninsula to get feedback on the Community Wildfire Protection Plan, or CWPP.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is in the middle of its annual budget process, and it’s facing some tough decisions of how to pay the borough’s bills.

Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce presented his proposed budget for the upcoming year to the assembly back in April, which includes about $8 million in spending from the borough’s fund balance. That would spend down the fund balance below the minimum recommended level, requiring the borough to bring it back up by fiscal year 2025. The assembly has been workshopping the budget since the end of April and has to finish it before July 1.

Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails

Construction begins Monday on a Soldotna park three years in the making.

Sarah Pyhala, who’s spearheading the Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails, plans to build a Japanese-themed garden and 2,700 feet of trails near Marydale and Riverwatch in Soldotna. She has longer-term plans in mind for the park, too, including a fish pond and tea house.

That’s been a sticking point for neighbors, who say the project has changed a lot since it was first proposed.

Kenai Peninsula Borough

The Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor’s chief of staff is retiring this summer.

James Baisden says he’s leaving the borough on June 1. It’s in the middle of Mayor Charlie Pierce’s second term, but Baisden said his leaving has nothing to do with the mayor’s timeline.

“It’s all about where I am now in my life," he said.

KPBSD

It will be a while before the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District knows for sure how much it will have in its budget next fiscal year.

But the process is in motion. The district is holding public forums later this month to educate people on the budget process and crowdsource information about funding priorities.

Already, it’s drafted a preliminary budget for FY22.

“But it is just a draft," said school board president Zen Kelly.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Alaska has eliminated nearly all barriers to getting the COVID-19 vaccine. Now, anyone who lives or works in the state and is 16 or older can get a dose.

Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink announced the update alongside Gov. Mike Dunleavy Tuesday evening — just three days shy of the one-year anniversary of Alaska’s first COVID-19 case.

Sales tax is important on the Kenai Peninsula. Borough sales tax translates to funding for schools.

Officials anticipated a drop in sales tax revenue during the pandemic. Recently released data show the taxable sales reported to the borough in 2020 were down over $116 million from 2019, a change of 10 percent. In Homer, the difference was 8 percent. In Seward, it was a 35 percent difference.

But those losses were not equally distributed. The cities of Kenai and Soldotna saw their taxable sales slightly increase from 2019 to 2020.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough and school district are starting budget negotiations with a $10 million difference between their proposals.

The borough won’t finalize the budget for the 2022 fiscal year until this summer. But at a work session Tuesday between the borough assembly and school board, the district presented an initial request for $53 million in local contributions.

The borough set a floor of $43 million. That’s how much the borough assembly approved for the district in 2013 and is $7 million less than the district is getting in 2021.

Renee Gross/KBBI

Bonds are back on the table. 

The Kenai Peninsula Borough is again considering a $29,940,000 bond to fund 19 maintenance projects in the school district, ranging from building a new school in Kachemak Selo to updating decades-old building automation systems.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District and borough planned on putting that proposal to a vote this fall, but things were delayed because of COVID-19. 

Sabine Poux/KDLL

For the more than 800 Alaskans who were vaccinated at Kenai Peninsula clinics this weekend, months of fear and anxiety about the coronavirus culminated in a moment’s breath.

“Now if you could just take a big deep breath through your nose," said Registered Nurse Tracy Silta as she administered the COVID-19 vaccine to Anne Browning Saturday at Soldotna Prep.

"Let it out. Perfect.”


The Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District is working on updating the borough's Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy for 2021 to 2026, to aid in planning for the next five years. This helps in directing policy, obtaining and distributing governmental funding, attracting new businesses to the borough, identifying roadblocks to development and, ideally, bettering the quality of life in our neck of the woods.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Zoom

City and borough officials have asked members of the public to wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. But at Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and Kenai City Council meetings this week, many officials did not take that suggestion.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Crews have completed work on the Kenai Spur Highway extension, a roughly eight-mile gravel addition to the road that stretches from Captain Cook State Park to Otter Creek.

It’s been a long time coming. Prior to construction, drivers could only access the Gray Cliff subdivision, north of Nikiski, via all-terrain vehicle. Those vehicles created sinkholes in the path and led to erosion in the many creeks and streams it crossed.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Resilience and Security Advisory Commission is newly organized and ready to advise the administration and assembly on sustainability solutions to promote the economic security, safety, self-reliance and wellbeing of its inhabitants.

Kenai Peninsula Borough

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted to oppose any government mandate that would require members of the public to take a COVID-19 vaccine.

There is no plan in the works for such a mandate in Alaska. Gov. Mike Dunleavy said at a press conference last week he does not plan on requiring the vaccine when it is ready for distribution, which likely won’t be for a while.

Some assembly members and public commenters brought that up. But the resolution passed anyway because of an amendment introduced at the meeting, changing the rhetoric from that of outright opposition to support for residents to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, “on prioritized and optional basis.” 

This year’s commercial salmon harvest was bad. Really bad.

The harvest in Upper Cook Inlet was reportedly the lowest since 1971, with drift gillnet and east side setnet harvests 86 percent lower than their respective recent 10-year averages. On top of that, the price for sockeye salmon paled in comparison with recent years.

That burden hits close to home for a lot of Kenai Peninsula fishermen. At the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting Tuesday, representatives from the United Cook Inlet Drift Association and Kenai Peninsula Fishermen's Association called on the assembly to request that the state of Alaska declare an economic disaster for Upper Cook Inlet commercial salmon fisheries. 

Kenai Peninsula Borough

The application window for the second round of Kenai Peninsula Borough CARES funding for nonprofits, small businesses and commercial fishermen closed Friday. While the second round functioned in many ways like the first, there was a noticeable difference in the applicant pool.

“This round, we definitely had an uptick in those commercial fishers that wanted to submit applications, either online, or even coming in for assistance with the applications,” said Brenda Ahlberg, the borough’s community and fiscal projects manager.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will ask the state to count the number of students enrolled in the school district last year, rather than this year, to determine how much funding the district will get in the 2021 fiscal year.

The assembly voted unanimously to put forth the recommendation at its meeting Tuesday.

The application window for the second round of borough-distributed CARES funding opens Monday morning. Small businesses and nonprofits located in the borough’s unincorporated communities that did not receive grants from the Kenai Peninsula Borough during its first round of funding are eligible to apply.

Commercial fishermen who fish within borough boundaries are also eligible, says Brenda Ahlberg, the borough’s community and fiscal projects manager.

She said there’s about $2.5 million allocated to round two.

“However, we are aware that if there are more applications than there is funding available, that the administration is prepared to go back to the assembly to provide money for the remaining balance,” Ahlberg said. 

The borough assembly approved two rounds of CARES grants earlier this summer, and this round will operate much like the first. In August, the borough distributed $6.1 million during round one. 

Voter participation in the Kenai Peninsula Borough is not, usually, real impressive. In the past 10 years, voter turnout in municipal elections has ranged from a low of 13.35 percent to a high of 26.02 percent.

This year, COVID-19 could keep even more people away from the polls. For the municipal election coming up Oct. 6, the borough is taking an extra step to make it easier to vote in advance. 

The borough assembly directed the clerk’s office to mail absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in the borough. You should have gotten yours by now. They were sent Aug. 14.

Absentee voting is nothing new — it’s already allowed in the borough and state. You don’t even have to have a particular reason why you want to vote absentee. The only new thing this year is preemptively sending absentee applications in the mail. Borough Clerk Johni Blankenship said that, so far, the response has been good. 

“It’s very successful, let me say that. That’s why I’m so busy. In an average year, we have between 300 and 500 applications. We are at the 2,000-application mark and we still have three weeks to go,” she said.

In the middle of a year with a hotly contested state legislature election, congressional election, and presidential election, it can be easy to forget about municipal elections. But the Kenai Peninsula has those this year, too, with some major seats up for grabs.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s municipal candidate filing period opened today and runs through noon on August 17. The borough mayor’s office and three assembly seats, including the ones from Kenai, Sterling/Funny River, and Homer are up for election. The Board of Education has four seats up for election, including those representing Nikiski, Soldotna, East Peninsula, and Central. All of those are three-year terms.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s CARES Act grant program closed for applications last Friday, with hundreds of businesses and nonprofits seeking aid.

The borough received 632 completed applications, with 40 being nonprofits. Borough community and fiscal projects manager Brenda Ahlberg says there were another 176 applications started but not finished—maybe because the applicant realized they didn’t qualify, or maybe they just forgot to hit the submit button.

The sponsors of the referendum to repeal the borough’s ordinance offering a vote-by-mail option have turned in their signatures.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk’s office is still evaluating the petition booklets for validity. Borough clerk Johni Blankenship says they have until Aug. 6 to ensure that the petitioners gathered at least 1,362 valid signatures from Kenai Peninsula Borough voters.

Alaska Department of Health and Social Services

Between Friday and Sunday, Alaska reported than 400 people had tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 333 are residents. That’s more than 13 percent of all the resident cases since the pandemic began in the state.

Another 78 were nonresidents, including 34 in Seward at a seafood processing plant. Sunday marked a record high, with 231 total cases reported in a single day. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says this comes from a variety of factors, including widespread community transmission from social gatherings and seafood plant outbreaks, but also a test backlog.

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