The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly will hold meetings in Homer and Seward in the next year following a vote by the body in favor of amending their meeting schedule.
The decision came after residents in those communities asked to be included in the body’s meeting schedule. The assembly will meet in Homer on Sept. 19, 2023, and in Seward in April of next year.
The assembly used to hold in-person meetings in Homer and Seward, but stopped that practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since that time, the borough has used federal COVID funds to remodel the Betty J. Glick Assembly Chambers such that meetings can be held in person and broadcast throughout the borough.
Acting Borough Clerk Michele Turner outlined in an April 18 meeting to assembly members the process and work that goes into holding meetings outside of Soldotna. The borough clerk’s office, for example, contacts city clerks to reserve city council chambers for meetings, works with the IT department for presentations and coordinates for assembly members to meet with the host city.
In direct costs, such as assembly member mileage and hotel costs for staff, Turner estimates the direct cost to the borough is $2,200 per meeting held outside of Soldotna. The indirect costs of those meetings for staff in the borough clerk’s office is just over $7,100. The indirect costs for other borough staff, like the borough attorney and finance director, are about $7,300.
In all, the costs incurred from holding an assembly meeting outside of Soldotna total about $16,700 per meeting. To hold one meeting each in Seward and Homer would cost the borough about $33,400.
Each meeting, Turner estimated, would involve 15 event hours and 30 prep hours per meeting, as well as 15 event hours for six other borough staff members, which is how the cost amounts were calculated.
“On the day following the meeting approximately an additional day of work is added due to using meeting management software that is not integrated into the KPB’s system,” Turner wrote. “ … Recordings are annually uploaded to the meeting management software, and roll call, timestamping and entering votes and actions taken at the meeting are manually populated in the meeting management software.”
Assembly members during a Tuesday, May 2 meeting of the body’s Policies and Procedures Committee generally agreed that increasing their presence in Seward and Homer would be beneficial, though there was some discussion about the best way to do that. Members considered, for example, holding town hall events that could reduce the workload for staff.
Town hall meetings, Turner wrote in her memo, would not be streamed live and would require roll call, rather than iPad, votes by assembly members. Those meetings would not require additional borough staff to attend and could facilitate “more free flowing” conversations between assembly members and the public.
Assembly member Bill Elam said May 2 he would support a town hall meeting because it would save the borough money while still allowing assembly members to be present in different communities.
“I like the idea of the town hall because I think that that would be less challenging, but still give everybody the presence of the whole body,” Elam said.
Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Peter Micciche, though, said town hall meetings in Seward and Homer would “shortchange” those communities.
“The bottom line is I believe we should be in those communities,” Micciche said. “I think we can manage our schedules as such, where those are ordinance-light so we don’t have to worry about technological issues and still have that same presence and be there to discuss what’s important to them.”
Assembly President Brent Johnson agreed that holding town hall meetings, rather than actual assembly meetings, could prevent other borough communities from getting their “fair shake.”
“I just think that we need to make those people in those outlying areas feel, as much as we can, a part of the process,” Johnson said. “The job is hard for everybody and I think it’s really hard to ask for … I think that it should be meetings.”
Assembly members ultimately unanimously voted to add meetings in Homer and Seward to their meeting schedule.
A full list of meeting dates as well as a video of the May 2 meeting can be found on the borough’s website at kpb.legistar.com.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.