Should there be more people on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and school board?
That question would be posed to borough voters on the Oct. 4 ballot if legislation given initial approval by the assembly Tuesday is passed. The legislation includes recommendations from a borough committee tasked with preparing reapportionment plans for the borough.
Data collected during the 2020 decennial census show that some areas of the Kenai Peninsula are gaining new residents at faster rates than other areas, which skews how they are represented on the assembly and on the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education.
Both the borough assembly and the board of education are composed of elected representatives from nine single-member districts across the borough. Geographies represented by those districts include Kalifornsky, Kenai, Nikiski, Soldotna, Sterling/Funny River, Seward/East Peninsula, Kasilof/Central, Homer and South Peninsula.
The assembly and the school board were formally declared to be malapportioned in January. That declaration prompted the creation of a committee tasked with preparing reapportionment plans for both bodies by June 23. The committee, which has since met several times, finalized their report last month.
In its final report, the committee recommends that borough residents pick one of two plans when they vote in the Oct. 4 borough election. The first plan, Plan 1, would retain the current model of nine single-member districts. The second plan, Plan 2, would consist of 11 single-member districts.
Under both plans, voters in each district would elect one assembly member and one board of education member.
Conceptual maps of the 11-district plan, which are not part of legislation given initial approval Tuesday, show, for example, the potential to break up the eastern peninsula into two districts. Currently, the communities of Cooper Landing, Moose Pass and Seward share a representative.
Kenai Peninsula Borough School Board member Debbie Cary, who also served on the reapportionment committee, took time during Tuesday’s assembly meeting to thank other committee members and borough administrators for their work through the process.
“We put a lot of effort into this,” Cary told assembly members, noting that it was the committee’s recommendation is to stay with nine districts, but that statute requires the presentation of two different plans.
According to a borough website that details the reapportionment process, the two conceptual plans accepted by the committee represent “how districts could be mapped if that plan was approved by voters.” They do not represent final boundary lines, which will be drawn by a redistricting committee once a plan is chosen.
The goal of reapportionment is to get the population of each district as close to a “target population” as possible. For the current redistricting cycle, the target population is 6,533. The mean deviation from that number for districts as currently drawn is 159 residents, though some districts are more off than others. The Nikiski district, for example, has the largest deviation with roughly 620 fewer residents than the 6,533 target figure.
Under the newly proposed nine-district plan, no district would deviate from the target population by more than 5%. Under the proposed 11-district plan, no district would deviate from the target population by more than 1.75%. The mean percent deviation for the nine-district plan would be 2.21%, compared to 0.78% for the 11-district plan.
The need to reapportion the borough’s assembly and board of education districts comes from Alaska statute, which requires the composition and apportionment of assemblies to comply with the equal representation standards of the U.S. Constitution. The once-in-a-decade process is done using fresh population data produced by the decennial census.
The nine-person committee included representatives from across the borough as well as Assembly President Brent Johnson. Virginia Morgan, Debbie Cary and Jason Taurianen are all members of the board of education and represent Cooper Landing, Ninilchick and Nikiski, respectively. Willy Dunne is a former assembly member from Homer, Crystal Collier is the president of the Seldovia Tribal Council and Sue McClure is the vice mayor of Seward. Hope/Sunrise Advisory Planning Commission Chair Jim Skogstad and Gary Davis of Sterling are also members.
A public hearing on the proposed questions will be held on April 19.
Tuesday’s meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will be available to stream on the borough’s website at kpb.us.