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Willy Dunne runs for second term on Assembly

Kenai Peninsula Borough

Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member Willy Dunne is running for his second term this election cycle. Dunne said voters should re-elect him because of his institutional knowledge on the council.

If re-elected, Dunne would reach the two-term limit on the assembly. He said it’s not only his experience as an assembly member that would make him affective over the next three years, but his work predating his time on the panel as well.

“Working with school site councils, working on the Kachemak Bay Advisory Planning Commission, working on local boards and committees and organizations, the [Kachemak Bay] State Park [Citizen] Advisory Board,” Dunne listed. “I’ve spent the past 30 years involved in our community, and I want to continue being involved and helping our residents.”

Over the past three years, a multi-million-dollar budget gap, budget cuts and finding additional revenue have been the main topics of discussion on the assembly. Its members have considered several tax options, everything from raising the borough’s sales tax to a bed tax. Dunne said the issue has been a tough nut to crack.

“I’d really love to come up with some revenue ideas that are acceptable to everybody,” he said.  

Dunne notes that of the options the assembly has considered, he would like to revisit increasing the sales tax cap from $500 to $1,000.

That proposal failed at the ballot box in 2017. However, he thinks voters could get behind the idea with more public education.

Dunne said whatever direction the assembly moves, it will need to do so quickly. Currently the borough’s main savings account sits at about $22.7 million, above the $15.4 million threshold the assembly is not supposed to dip below.

“We can eventually have a balanced budget, but what we cannot do is continue to spend our savings. That is unsustainable,” Dunne added.

The assembly has relied on that fund over past few years, but it did take some measures into its own hands by increasing property taxes slightly earlier this year.

The move didn’t cover the entire fiscal gap, and Dunne has pushed back against any notion that the assembly could cut its way out of the problem. That’s something his opponent, Troy Jones, is pushing for, a similar platform Mayor Charlie Peirce ran on last year.

“Literally within a few weeks of being mayor, he came to the assembly and alerted us that even with a flat budget or a cut budget, we were still going need to come up with other revenue sources,” Dunne recalled.

Aside from taxes, there are other ways the borough could increase revenue, such as modifying the $150,000 senior property tax exemption the borough provides. Some residents have asked the assembly to revisit the issue in recent months. The assembly did approve an ordinance in 2016 that asked voters to approve a phase-out plan for the current exemption.

“I supported that. I actually voted for it, but it failed at the poles,” Dunne said. “The people have spoken on that issue and we’ll have to look other places.”

The assembly could also look to property taxes again, but Dunne said that should only be a last resort.

When it comes to the two bond propositions affecting the southern Kenai Peninsula, Dunne said he supports the compromise of letting voters decide whether to expand both the Central and South Peninsula Hospital service area boundaries.

He also supports a $5.4 million bond for a new school in Kachemak Selo.

“The state has appropriated $10 million to contribute towards the construction of that school, leaving the borough with roughly $5 million to contribute,” Dunne explained. “If that is not approved and if we don’t build a school, we will still be on the hook someday to provide a school down there. It’s never going to be cheaper than it is right now.”

If the bond does not pass, the borough will need to come up with a different way to come up with its match before the state’s contribution expires in 2019.

The municipal election is on Oct. 2.

Aaron Bolton has moved on to a new position in Montana; he is no longer KBBI News Director. KBBI is currently seeking a News Director, and Kathleen Gustafson is filling in for the time being.
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