About 50 peninsula residents gathered at the Ninilchik Fairgrounds multi- purpose building for a public hearing on Monday, March 9 to hear testimony on the necessity for a borough fire and emergency medical service area.
A panel of six presenters from Kenai Peninsula Borough, Anchor Point Fire and EMS and Central Emergency Services appeared at a public meeting Monday to lay out the options and answer questions. Monday's public meeting is an early part of the process. Borough Assembly Member, Brent Johnson will introduce a resolution to form a working group that may choose either an independent Ninilchik Emergency Service Area or an emergency service area that combines with Anchor Point Fire and EMS area.
Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce would then appoint a working group to study and choose one of the possibilities. That choice would go on the ballot for the October 6th, 2020 municipal election. The community has a volunteer fire and EMS department. Troy Laky from Ninilchik Emergency Services attended the meeting and read a statement from NES Chief David Bear. In the statement, Chief Bear says it takes two or three years to train and advance, an EMS firefighter. And the average length of time a person volunteers is that same two or three years. NES relies on one or two upper level EMS responders to provide 24 hour emergency services in Ninilchik. Chief Bear suggests in the statement that one way to solve that is to hire trained responders.
"Hiring circumvents a long training process and incentivizes personnel to stay with the service. Unfortunately, our NES operating budget struggles to maintain even one paid position. In short, we are between a rock and a hard place when it comes to maintaining adequate numbers of advanced EMS and fire personnel submitted for your consideration," Laky read from Chief Bear's statement. Ninilchik Emergency Services Board of Directors recently had a complete overhaul. The old board resigned just a few weeks ago and the new board is forming. DaveVanek served on the old board since it was created in 1973. He spoke during public comment saying that the old boards objection to creating a borough service area came down to not wanting the citizens to pay for an ambulance that someone else needs.
"The charges we do are user fees. Only the people that are transported by the ambulance pay. Under the borough, everybody pays whether you ever use it or not," said Vanek.
One option on the table is the creation of a joint Anchor Point Ninilchik Emergency Service Area. Chief Jon Marsh of Anchor Point Fire and EMS said that Anchor Point is ready to combine with Ninilchik if the working group decides that a combined service area is what best suits the needs of the community. Moving from a volunteer team to one that includes paid responders comes at a cost, off course. Several meeting attendees pointed out that many Ninilchik area residents are senior citizens who enjoy a $350,000 property tax exemption, and the fees for maintaining a service area come from property taxes paid by the citizens. Borough Finance Director, Brandy Harbaugh presented some of the projected mil rates that could run as high as 6.27% for an independent Ninilchik service area. A joint service area combined with Anchor Point could yield a mil rate as high as 2.32%. Nancy DePodesta of Ninilchik asked Harbaugh about those numbers during public comment.
"When you look at these figures, then why would either service area stand alone. If the mill rate goes down by combining the two," said Depodesta. Harbaugh replied," I think my response is that it would be up to the working group to determine the needs of the service area and then then we would work towards the actual mill rate required to accomplish that."
After public comment, Assembly Member, Brent Johnson representing Ninilchik said the senior tax exemption was mandated by the state at $150,000 but the Kenai Peninsula Borough didn't stop there.
"The borough, in their generosity, decided to make it $300,000. In addition to that, the borough decided to give all residents a $50,000 exemption. They decided that the 50,000 gets added to the $300,000 so yeah, that makes it harder for young people," said Johnson.
Johnson says he plans to introduce a resolution to form a working group to choose one of the possible service area plans at the assembly's March 17th meeting, with the working group, choosing a plan to go to the voters by July. You can find a link to notes from the meeting, a recording of the meeting and all the maps by going to the borough's website. KPB.us .