This story originally published in the Peninsula Clarion.

The Kenai Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum to get residents better acquainted with the three people running for the two empty seats on the Kenai City Council.

Robert Peterkin, Teea Winger and Bob Molloy are running for Kenai City Council. Elections are Oct. 2.

Peterkin couldn’t attend the forum but submitted a video with his introductory statement, where he focused on quality public safety and protection and asked residents to contact him if they had any questions.

Molloy introduced himself to the crowd as a small business owner, who has been operating a law practice in the area for more than 37 years. He said he is a registered nonpartisan and looks at the job of a city council member as a way to help people and businesses deal with issues in their city government.

“In matters that come before the council I work to be informed, listen to comments and keep in mind the best interest of the city and serve citizens of Kenai,” Molloy said. “Kenai is an awesome play to live, raise a family and do business.”

Winger introduced herself at the forum as a born-and-raised member of the community. She said she lives in the family home her grandparents, the McBrides, homesteaded. She previously owned a restaurant and said she’s always been active in the community. She said she is passionate about disaster preparedness and sharing life-saving skills with the community.

“I’m here to be passionate and make a difference,” Winger said.

Qualifications

The first question asked what qualifications Winger and Molloy had for the position of city council member.

Molloy, who has been serving on the council since 2005, said he has ample experience working on a team with a lot of divergent views.

“I’m a committed hard worker,” Molloy said. “I study the issues and I’m willing to listen to both sides of the issue.”

Winger said she doesn’t have any political experience, but that she is very active in the community.

“I feel that I could work well with Bob and Robert, and I look forward to bringing forward fresh ideas.”

Challenges

The next question was what is Kenai’s greatest strength and greatest challenge?

Winger said Kenai’s greatest strength is its people.

“We live in a great community,” Winger said. “It makes a big difference in our economy and our growth.”

Winger said weaknesses in Kenai can be attributed to weaknesses also felt on a state level.

“I feel that some of our weaknesses are just overall what we’re experiencing on a state level,” Winger said. “We have some tough decisions ahead of us.”

Molloy said he agreed that people were Kenai’s greatest strength. He used an example from Wednesday’s city council agenda — an idea for a dog park that was brought forth by a group of local volunteers. Molloy said the council is working to strengthen any weaknesses.

Priorities

The forum asked the candidates what their first priority would be as a council member, and the steps they would take to accomplish that priority.

Molloy said his first priority would be to encourage the administration to move forward with working on a capital plan that discusses capital needs for the city, and to continue working on a land use policy. He said he would do this by encouraging the Planning and Zoning Commission to keep working on sign code.

Winger’s first priority is public safety. She said her first step to tackle this issue would be to work with first responders to build up a safer community.

“I think we’re all aware the amount of crime we’re facing,” Winger said. “We are facing an epidemic right now. I would work with local programs to work on mental health. I believe they go hand in hand. If we can get mental health issues in check, the crime will start to follow.”

Candidates were asked how they would utilize the large amount of vacant land the city owns.

Winger said she wanted to see the land in private hands and on the tax roll.

“I believe we should look at investors and develop those lands and get the revenue on the books,” Winger said.

When asked how they would help to attract new business to Kenai, Molloy said he would continue supporting policies that help new businesses, like leasing airport reserve lands.

“When individuals have identified economic opportunities in Kenai, like Ron Hyde and Cannery Lodge, we should be supporting the sale of the property and that economic opportunity,” Molloy said.

Winger said she would pair up with the Kenai Chamber of Commerce.

“I think there’s a lot of great ideas, activities and events we could bring to our city,” Winger said.

Annexation

The candidates were asked if they supported annexation and the expansion of Kenai’s borders.

Winger said she wasn’t very familiar with the issue.

“It would be something I would have to look into further on both sides and make sure it’s in the best mind of my community members,” Winger said.

Molloy said he had no interest in annexation.

“In the 37 or so square miles of land we do have, we don’t have all of our roads paved and we don’t have services to a lot of our areas, so I’m not interested in expanding our borders until we take care of our own,” Molloy said.

The next question asked the candidates if services in Kenai needed to grow, and if so, what services should be included.

Molloy said he was pleased with the broad range of services the city already provides.

“I personally haven’t identified that we would need to add any,” Molloy said. “I think our employees and department heads provide great services.”

Winger said the city offers great services, but that she would like to see more programs focusing on mental health, seniors and homeless youth.

“I feel we could add more programs to help with drug epidemics that in turn, will create better crime response,” Winger said. “I personally would like to see better mental health and addiction services increased in this area. There’s always room for improvement with services for our seniors. We’re also facing a newer issue with our homeless youth. I’ve been active in a lot of different areas on that and I think we should be concerned with the amount of transient and homeless youth our community is seeing.”

Balancing the budget

In 2017, the city adopted a fund balance budget. The candidates were asked if that balance is working and if it’s sustainable.

Winger said there is always room for improvement when it comes to the budget.

“We need to be able to look at our programs and see where our opportunity for growth is,” Winger said. “I will continue to work with everybody to make the best and most important decisions to fund us.”

Molloy said he originally supported the change.

“I think it’s great for the government to have a fund balance policy,” Molloy said.

Environmental concerns

Bluff erosion is an issue the city has been dealing with for decades. The feasibility study for a bluff stabilization project is nearing completion. Candidates were asked if bluff stabilization should be the city’s number one priority.

Molloy said the issue should be at the top of the city’s priority list because so much land has been lost already.

“For those of you who were born here, or have lived here a long time like me, remember the Harborview restaurant that is totally gone now,” Molloy said. “The property is totally gone. It’s one of the challenges that we have, and a challenge relating to that is public support for financing it.”

Winger said the bluff erosion study has been going on her entire life, and that she would like to an end to it.

“It would be nice to see an end result,” Winger said. “We’ve been waiting for a result for a long time. We have to worry about the finances and make sure we can afford such a project.”

Drugs and crime

Candidates were asked how they would lessen the impacts of drugs and crime in the community.

Winger said that boosting programs that focus on mental health and addiction outreach would help tackle the issue.

“We don’t have very many detox centers or programs or resources for them, so that is something we need to increase in our community, as well as giving more support to our police,” Winger said.

Molloy said he would support funding for the fire department and KPD, as well as reaching out to the legislature.

Candidates were asked if they would be interested in adding additional taxes and revenue streams.

Molloy said he had no interest in adding any additional taxes.

“I don’t want to be misunderstood,” Winger said. “I don’t think our sales tax is down overall, estimate wise. We do have businesses investing in Kenai.”

Permanent Fund Dividend

Winger said she is not a fan of new taxes and residents are facing hard enough times with the reduction of the Permanent Fund Dividend, which she said is hurting the private economy.

“I would not want to do new tax revenue, but I do feel we need to increase businesses,” Winger said. “We need to encourage other business growth. Our community is full of entrepreneurs, so how do we get them involved and establishing businesses? Do we need to give them more support?”

In their closing statements, Winger said that as a member of the community she sees areas where the city needs to improve.

“I want to step up and be that voice for the younger generation,” Winger said.

Molloy said he would be happy to work with both, Peterkin or Winger should he be elected. He emphasized his long-time community roots in the area and noted that even if he doesn’t like an idea that he works to improve it for the body.

“We do have some challenges ahead and I ask for your support, and one of your two votes,” Molloy said.

Reach Victoria Petersen at vpetersen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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