Assembly nixes changes to service area boundaries

Medical service areas, and the implications of their boundaries, drew the most debate from Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly members during their Tuesday night meeting.

The assembly voted down two ordinances addressing medical service area boundaries. The first sought to expand the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area to include the city of Seldovia and outlying communities including Nanwalek and Port Graham. Assembly Member Sue McClure said when the original service area lines were drawn, there was a hospital in Seldovia. With a hospital no longer being there, she said the ordinance would expand the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area to include those residents.

The assembly voted the ordinance down, deciding it needs more information before it can move forward.

The second ordinance, brought forth by assembly member Brent Johnson, sought to move the “common boundary” between the Central Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area and the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area. The ordinance would have moved the line 14.5 miles south, closer to the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area.

Johnson said the two service areas were not separated at the true, proposed midpoint between them when they were created in 1969, and that it could be safely assumed that people between the actual midpoint and the current midpoint were more likely to use the Central Peninsula Hospital.

“The people should be taxed according to a service area that makes good sense… and also a hospital that they go to,” Johnson said.

With the boundary line moved, residents in that area would no longer pay taxes for the South Kenai Peninsula Hospital Service Area, which would lose around $120,000 said hospital CEO Bob Leston.

Assembly members voted this ordinance down, again citing a need for more information from a task force being formed to investigate the matter. Mayor Mike Navarre said the task force has been slow to get up and running.

“History matters in how the service areas are formed, and maybe these lines are somewhat arbitrary,” said Assembly Member Blaine Gilman. “The fact of the matter is that a hospital nonprofit association has relied on this funding source, and to take away $122,000 from this nonprofit right now… I just think that’s too big of a cut in their budget.”

One service area ordinance brought forth by both Navarre and Johnson did pass. The ordinance sought to expand the boundaries of the Anchor Point Fire and Emergency Medical Service Area to include a portion of the Cook Inlet stretching along the coast from section 7 to section 34 and west into the water to the Mean High Water of Cook Inlet. 

Johnson said this change would accommodate oil and gas entities offshore not currently included in the service area. Other members agreed that increased activity offshore due to oil and gas interests necessitated enlarging the service area, should injured people come ashore and need assistance.

The matter will be brought before voters in that service area for a vote during the scheduled Oct. 6 election.

Megan Pacer is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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