Micciche reflects on taking helm at ‘rudderless’ borough

Micciche cruised to victory in the Feb. 14 Kenai Peninsula Borough mayoral special election

It’s been almost two months since Peter Micciche cruised to victory in the Feb. 14 Kenai Peninsula Borough mayoral special election — receiving more than 50% of all votes cast and forgoing the need for a mayoral runoff.

Micciche during a Monday interview described the borough entity he inherited as “rudderless” and said he’s been focused on bolstering borough communications, taking over the current budget process and reviewing borough policies — including the borough’s bullying and sexual harassment policy.

Micciche said review of the bullying and sexual harassment policy was not triggered by a current lawsuit against the borough filed by a former employee, who said the borough failed to protect her from harassment by former Mayor Charlie Pierce.

“There were, in my view, certainly gaps with the previous policy,” Micciche said.

He’s planning to discuss during the next borough assembly meeting the changes to those policies, which he said will include a panel that employees can present information to, as well as procedures specific to elected officials.

The draft budget Micciche said he inherited from Mike Navarre, who served as interim mayor following the resignation of Pierce, proposed a 9% increase in expenditures from the borough’s general fund. Micciche said he’s since reduced that increase to 4% and views tax dollars as a “sacred pool of funding.”

“Those are dollars that are not going to dance lessons or a new car or something that people really need,” Micciche said. “It’s my personal responsibility, working with the assembly, to recognize that.”

He’s also proposing a mill rate decrease — from 4.5 mills to 4.3 mills — with the goal of “provid(ing) some relief” to residents.

Mill rates are used to figure out how much someone will pay in property taxes during a certain fiscal year. To calculate how much property tax they expect to pay, an individual must divide the mill rate by 1,000 and then multiply that by their property’s taxable value. The borough assembly last year lowered the mill rate from 4.7 to 4.5 mills.

Micciche is also putting a renewed focus on the borough’s solid waste services, which he said accounts for a third of the revenue the borough levies through the mill rate at about 1.5 mills. The borough is in the process of developing a solid waste master plan that will enable the borough to work with outside consultants about the best way to manage the cost of those services.

When it comes to funding for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, Micciche said the borough funding them to the maximum amount allowable is “not an argument worth having.”

Alaska State Statute outlines the minimum and maximum amount of money the borough can contribute to the school district. Those minimum and maximum amounts are tied to the amount of money the state gives school districts per student, or the base student allocation.

Micciche has said previously and reiterated Monday that he is committed to funding KPBSD to the cap at the current BSA amount of $5,960 for fiscal year 2024, or about $54.7 million, according to the district’s Fiscal Year 2024 budget presentation.

That may change, though, if the BSA amount goes up, Micciche said.

“Funding to the current cap has become somewhat of an expectation that could potentially change in the future if there’s a large BSA increase,” Micciche said. “What I’ve asked of school board members and the administration is, let’s look at this in the future. We want to make sure that you have adequate funding but let’s evaluate what that looks like over time.”

There is widespread advocacy this year for the Alaska Legislature to increase and inflation-proof the BSA. State lawmakers approved last year a $30 increase to the amount, effective in Fiscal Year 2024.

When it comes to his own office, Micciche is taking a slightly different approach than previous mayors.

He’s yet to hire a chief of staff, has brought on Casady Herding as his administrative assistant and welcomed Joe Rizzo as a communications director. Micciche said during the assembly’s April 4 meeting that Rizzo is a half-time employee and is taking over some of the borough’s branding initiatives previously handled by firm Agnew::Beck.

Regarding his second-in-command, Micciche said he is “actively talking” to people in the community, but that he’s pretty comfortable with the current division of labor. He described himself as “knowledgeable in all (the) processes” typically overseen by a chief of staff and whoever he hires will be more about dividing Micciche’s current workload.

“If we’re going to fill that position, it’s going to be with a team player with a philosophy similar to mine,” Micciche said. “But I’m not in a hurry.”

Even though Micciche has priorities he’s focusing on right now, he said it’s important that people know that other issues don’t fade away.

“Prioritization doesn’t mean important stuff at the bottom drops off the list,” Micciche said. “It means that you’re able to manage an organization of this size so that those issues also receive the attention they need over time and that’s what we’re focused on right now.”

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.