A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the councilmember who called for reconsideration of the material site ordinance. Councilmember Jesse Bjorkman called for reconsideration.
Just two years ago, the Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council received $300,000 in borough funding. That number was initially zeroed out for the most recent budget. After assembly elections this fall, there were enough votes to approve $150,000 for a grant that's been tentatively awarded to the tourism marketing council, but borough Mayor Charlie Pierce opposed the funding and vetoed that measure. At Tuesday's meeting, the assembly overrode his veto.
"But what you're doing here is, and I've stated it in the letter, and I think that I've had some staff that agrees with me that you're setting a bad precedent, or you're going outside of the normal customary practices, and you're, you're giving this agency an extra $150,000. You're getting $50,000 more than you appropriated in 2020 and you have no justification for it, said Pierce.
The justification that has been used is the part of borough code that gives the assembly authority to promote economic development, including tourism. Many assembly members share the view that the Kenai Peninsula is competing with other areas of the state for those tourism dollars. And if local government contributions to that effort are a measuring stick, the peninsula is falling behind. Assembly member Brett Hibbert sponsored the funding that Pierce vetoed.
"All I have to say is that we are competing for tourists from Anchorage, which spends over $7 million a year. Juneau spends over a million, Fairbanks, 2.9 million and the Mat Su Borough, it's close to 800,000. So that's what we're competing against, said Hibbert."
The main argument against funding is that the assembly hasn't been shown a correlation between the borough's investment and its return in the form of local tourists spending. Part of the agreement with the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council is that the funding will not actually be released until a plan has been presented. That includes those return on investment numbers. But assembly member Ken Carpenter thinks another organization, a chamber of commerce, or a private firm would be better suited to the work.
"I'm not against KPTMC and I love tourism. It's what supports Seward quite a lot. But I think we are barking up the wrong tree. We need to find another way. Tourism is important. A lot of people spend a lot of money. We're just thrown it away as far as I can see. They can't tell us how much the 90 ships that came to Seward last year, they were involved in. They can't tell us how much of the $7.7 million they were involved in. It's just because their name is tourism," Carpenter said.
After discussion, the mayor's veto was overridden with Carpenter, Norm Blakeley and Jesse Bjorkman the no votes.
Also at the meeting, the assembly failed to pass amendments to borough code governing material sites, for example, gravel pits. Then, Assemblymember Bjorkman called for reconsideration of the ordinance, which would change allowable decibel levels and increase buffer zones for material sites. That ordinance will be back on the agenda at the January meeting. And the assembly heard public testimony on an ordinance sponsored by Mayor Pierce to establish permits for gated communities and properties. That ordinance was postponed until February 25th so that community members can read proposed changes to the ordinance. You can find the meeting agenda and email@example.com click on Assembly/Clerk.