Kenai Peninsula senior task force nixed
Citing low public interest and little need, Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre vetoed a resolution to create a senior task force on Feb. 23. The resolution, brought forward by senior advocate Peter Zuyus and Kenai Peninsula Borough assembly member Kelly Cooper, was intended to form the task force to serve as a resource for seniors in the Kenai Peninsula.
“We wanted a pathway for seniors to ask questions and offer commentary on the borough level,” said Zuyus. “Other boroughs have similar setups, and there are no representatives from the Kenai Peninsula in the Alaska Commission on Aging, so I felt like this would be a good thing.”
As a second class borough, the Kenai Peninsula Borough does not have the same powers as other boroughs by code, said Cooper.
“Second class boroughs only have power over schools, roads, trash and taxes,” she said. “We weren’t able to just do what the other boroughs were doing in terms of a task force.”
As a task force under a second class borough code, a newly-made senior task force would have to publicly advertise every meeting in addition to having a borough clerk and attorney present at all times.
The resolution initially passed 5-4 by the assembly, but only two people showed an interest in being on the task force, Cooper said.
The mayor vetoed the resolution after surveying the Kenai Peninsula senior centers and finding low interest in participation, according to a statement from the mayor’s office. Staff from the office spoke with directors from Anchor Point, Cooper Landing, Nikiski, Kenai, Ninilchik, Seldovia, Seward, Soldotna and Sterling, discussing the types of assistance seniors ask for or expect from the centers, whether or not seniors know about the availability of services provided by the center, and what the center’s level of participation is as a referral service.
The centers unanimously responded that their current services like food service, senior housing and transportation, and resources like Medicare enrollment, legal services and driving classes were sufficient, said Michelle Walker, director of the Sterling Senior Center.
“I agree with other senior centers and the fact that we do have that voice for them,” Walker said. “We serve all seniors in the Peninsula. All directors meet and discuss senior needs and resolutions quarterly to fix whatever needs to be fixed.”
In addition to senior centers, the Kenai Peninsula also provides seniors access to adult day care facilities, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ Division of Senior Disabilities Services and the Alaska Commission on Aging.
“After calling the different centers in the area, I thought the duties of the proposed task force were redundant given we have more senior centers than people that were interested in being on the task force,” Navarre said. “We would need to organize meetings, and we’d have to set up a whole other meeting place. Attending a meeting in person would be hard because the Kenai Peninsula is the size of West Virginia. Utilizing the senior centers would be more efficient than adding another advisory task force.”
“It was forward thinking on Zuyus’s part,” added Cooper. “He was trying to be proactive and thought we had more authority with the senior task force like Juneau and Fairbanks. We could’ve had a senior task force, but we wouldn’t have had any power. It would’ve just cost the borough more money and been government making government bigger.”
In the future as mayor, Navarre will continue to use the senior centers as a point of information on senior affairs, he said.
“The senior centers are a good resource for information,” he said. “And we will continue to solicit feedback from seniors on changes to the borough code that will affect them as residents of the Kenai Peninsula Borough.”