The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly confirmed Borough Mayor Dan Rohrer’s appointments to the Consolidation Committee, which will investigate the possibility of consolidating the borough with the city of Kodiak into a single government unit. The committee will consist of nine members, including one borough representative, one city representative, one rural cities representative and six at-large members.
The borough representative is KIB Assembly Member Julie Kavanaugh, with Assembly Member James Turner serving as alternate. The city representative is Council Member Terry Haines. The city alternate seat is currently vacant. The rural cities representatives is Port Lions Mayor Dorinda Kewan, with longtime Ouzinkie resident Joe Delgado serving as alternate. The six at-large appointments are Jennifer Culbertson, Jared Griffin, Tyler Kornelis, Justin Thran, Roy Thomas and Paul VanDyke.
Borough Manager Michael Powers and City Manager Mike Tvenge will serve as ex-officio members on the committee. Kavanaugh was designated as the chairperson. The vice chairperson will be elected by the committee.
“I’m looking forward to this committee moving forward. It’s been languishing for quite a while,” Kavanaugh said during Thursday’s assembly meeting. “I am a little intimidated but excited.”
“I want to just commit to do my very best,” Kavanaugh added. “It’s my intention to speak with staff and the members with the committee and set as aggressive a meeting schedule as they’ll allow me to, just to get a running start.”
The responsibilities of the committee will be to offer recommendations relating to the consolidation of the borough and city governments into a new local government. They will also prepare a draft petition for the Local Boundary Commission.
The creation of the committee follows an advisory question placed on the 2016 local election ballot that asked, “Should the Kodiak Island Borough pursue the idea of consolidating the Kodiak Island Borough and City of Kodiak into a single unit of government?”
The results of the 2016 election were 1,235 “Yes” votes and 919 “No” votes.
“I have probably not agonized over an issue more than this one,” Rohrer said, on the process of selecting committee members.
Originally, 15 individuals applied to serve on the committee. Subsequently, two applicants pulled their candidacy and two applicants put their names forward for the KIB borough assembly seats, Rohrer said.
“One of my goals while making this list was to try and have some geographic diversity to the group,” Rohrer said. Committee members include city of Kodiak residents, as well as individuals who reside in Monashka, Bells Flats, Service District 1 and Port Lions.
City Council and Borough Assembly members previously raised concerns over the appointment of borough and city employees to the committee. However, due to the limited number of candidates, Rohrer did not exclude borough and city employees, in consultation with City Mayor Pat Branson.
Committee member VanDyke is a borough employee, working as an IT specialist. Committee member Roy Thomas is a city employee, working as a youth specialist at the Kodiak Public Library.
Some assembly members raised concerns over the relatively small number of individuals who applied for the committee.
“I would have liked to see 30 to 40 names. What this speaks to is that there is very little interest in this,” said Assembly Member Scott Arndt.
Arndt noted that a lot has changed since the 2016 vote that began the process of examining consolidation.
“It was voted on three years ago and a lot has changed in this time. We have a lot of other very immediate concerns that we will be looking at, depending on what the governor vetoes on the bills before him,” Arndt said.
Arndt said the consolidation committee should not begin meeting before the city and borough discuss their needs and commitments.
“The city has a capital projects list that calls for $600 million worth of spending, knowing full well that they are going to be pushing things off because they don’t have the money. And that’s something that we, the borough, are looking at taking on,” Arndt said. “We don’t have our house in order, either. We have a tremendous amount of deferred maintenance that we haven’t done, and we’re looking at combining things. To me, it would be better if each of us had our houses in order and we were working together towards this.”
Assembly Member Scott Smiley was similarly concerned over the impact of budgetary constraints facing both the borough and the city.
“We are facing a radically different approach to government from the state and a radically different approach to government and support of communities from the feds, as well,” Smiley said. “We’re going to have to learn to live with whatever changes are brought forward through these differences. That’s a large order to try to fill.”
However, Kavanaugh said that the constraints caused by changes in state funding could provide an opportunity for change.
“I think that when you’re facing huge upheaval like maybe we perceive we are in the state of Alaska, that change can be good. It can be really good timing. It can maybe ease some of the problems by being able to adapt to the things that are changing,” Kavanaugh said.
Kavanaugh added that she regularly gets comments from the public in support of consolidation.
“I also hear a lot of misspeaking when the public talks about the services that are provided by both entities, not understanding where they come from, who to talk to, where to go, how to get a problem addressed. I think there’s a lot of confusion in the public even though the two entities have been in existence for a very long time,” Kavanaugh said.
The consolidation application document prepared by the committee can serve as “a product that the community can look at and decide for themselves if it’s going to move forward,” Kavanaugh said.
Assembly Member Rebecca Skinner voiced her support for the committee.
“I think there is an opportunity to do things better. I think at this point, doing nothing is not an option,” she said.
At the conclusion of the assembly’s discussion, Arndt made a motion to postpone the creation of a consolidation committee indefinitely. However, the motion was not seconded, and did not move forward.
The motion to staff the committee carried five to one, with Arndt the only assembly member to vote against it. Assembly Member Andy Schroeder was not present at the meeting.