The four candidates for the upcoming Kenai Peninsula Borough mayoral special election spoke on current issues during a forum held at Kachemak Bay Campus on Feb. 1. Candidates Peter Micciche, Linda Farnsworth-Hutchings, Zachary Hamilton and David Carey, who also attended a similar event in Soldotna on Jan. 24, were all present at the Homer forum.
The forum was hosted by the Homer Chamber of Commerce and broadcast live by KBBI AM 890. Attendance was also available in-person and through Zoom. HCOC Executive Director Brad Anderson moderated the event.
Items for discussion pertained to both boroughwide issues and those that specifically affect the southern Kenai Peninsula, including the ongoing housing crisis, land development, transportation, education and obstacles to local economic growth. Throughout the forum, candidates emphasized the need for focus on the southern peninsula in addition to the central peninsula.
Candidates were asked to share their plans for addressing housing shortages that affect business staffing and recruitment. Both Farnsworth-Hutchings and Micciche advocated for earmarking available borough property and bringing it into the private sector for development.
“For the long-term value of our communities, we have to ensure that we make adequate planning a reality so that we have solutions for housing,” Micciche said.
Hamilton suggested using European coastal cities as a template and encouraged entrepreneurs and investors to consider “mixed-use developments … not unlike the Spit.”
Carey acknowledged that the discussion on housing must be a widely-held discussion.
Anderson asked the candidates what economic development opportunities for the southern Kenai peninsula they had on their radar. Hamilton suggested being “more effective within the tourism industry [and] more strategic about how you capture revenue here.” Carey focused on the need for infrastructure and health care to give residents quality of life, and suggested placing a mayoral office in Homer to prevent neglect of the southern peninsula. Micciche and Farnsworth-Hutchings discussed expanding on opportunities already available in Homer.
Micciche spoke on the harbor expansion project while Farnsworth-Hutchings referenced Homer’s independent farms, theater and arts programs.
Candidates were asked about mainataining, increasing or limiting the existing senior property tax exemptions. Carey, Micciche and Farnsworth-Hutchings all supported protecting the exemptions, citing their impact on senior citizens’ ability to remain in Alaska and help the local economy thrive.
Hamilton also said he had “no intention to touch [the exemptions],” but noted that the money not brought in to the borough because of the exemptions could be used to make up fiscal deficits if that were to change.
“I don’t want to mess with any taxes,” Hamilton said. “But as a borough, we have to think about how things get paid for.”
Conversation turned to whether more borough land should be made available for development and what type of development the candidates would like to see take place. Micciche and Farnsworth-Hutchings cited the necessity of identifying borough needs and issues as well as what property is available for development. Farnsworth-Hutchings, Hamilton and Carey also emphasized the need for infrastructure to address issues such as utility and road access and flooding in order to develop property and maintain existing developments.
Candidates were asked what ideas they had to address the significant seasonal employee staffing issues local businesses face, with specific regard to affordable housing solutions and ways to attract more seasonal workers. Hamilton, who is trained in asset-based community development, said that “the people who are closest to the problem have the solutions.”
“It may be that the business owner has to become a creative problem solver … You may have to create housing for your employees if you want seasonal workers to work in your business,” he said.
Carey emphasized first recruiting from the locally available workforce and suggested beginning a workforce development program in the high schools where employers could come into the schools and guide students on becoming employees.
“What do we have now that can be adapted?” Carey said.
Micciche similarly suggested working with the educational system to promote additional opportunities and career and technical training to prepare students for Alaskan jobs. Farnsworth-Hutchings also supports career and technical education development and brought up Soldotna’s new zoning ordinance as a potential model to help solve Homer’s housing issue. The ordinance, passed in October, outlined new regulations for accessory dwelling units in an effort to expand and diversify the city’s housing inventory, the Peninsula Clarion reported.
Candidates were asked about solutions to public transit issues within and between the borough communities. All candidates recognized the work that has already been done to address these issues, and that there is more work needed. They noted that this is a community issue and would require boroughwide collaborative discussions.
All four candidates answered affirmatively when asked whether they thought more educational options should be created to improve outcomes for students in state.
Near the end of the forum, the candidates shared their top budget cuts should they be elected. Farnsworth-Hutchings, an accountant by trade, said she would meet with department heads and examine the budget line by line, reallocating unused funds so as to reduce deficits. Hamilton and Micciche replied similarly that they would examine the budget for efficiencies and redundancies. Carey said that he believed in “leading by example,” and that if he were elected he would reduce borough spending on himself, including his salary.
Election Day is Feb. 14, though early/absentee voting is going on now at the Homer Annex Office, 638 E. Pioneer Avenue. Previous reporting on the candidates and the Soldotna forum can be found on both homernews.com and peninsulaclarion.com. The Homer forum can be streamed in its entirety on the HCOC Facebook page and on KBBI AM 890’s website at kbbi.org/.
Delcenia Cosman can be reached at email@example.com.