Two Soldotna men who have been heavily involved in area public service took part in a forum discussing their mayoral candidacies Tuesday during Soldotna’s weekly Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Former Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey and former city council member Dr. Nels Anderson answered questions about a convention center, annexation, taxes and why they chose to run for the recently-vacated mayoral seat.
The April 2 election will determine who serves the remainder of former mayor Peter Micciche’s term, which ends October 2014.
The first question posed to either candidate was whether property taxes should be eliminated in the city.
Carey, who served three terms as Soldotna’s mayor before being elected as the Kenai Peninsula Borough mayor for one term, said he supported eliminating property taxes.
“I’ve been talking about this issue from the day I filed,” Carey said. “I believe, very much, that we could help the people that live in Soldotna, we could help the business community of Soldotna by getting rid of property taxes. ... The city has a very strong surplus, they’re in very good financial shape.”
“It’s true, we have a very nice fund balance right now ... however, we have to look at what may happen in the future,” Anderson said. “We have significant grant (funds) that come both from the state and federal government. In fact I think you would be surprised how much of the resources and things that get supported around here really get paid for by the state and federal government.
“If those are reduced, which certainly may happen as there are reductions to the state’s (funding), you have to assume a much bigger burden of what’s going on there.”
Anderson said he supported lowering the property taxes but not abolishing them entirely.
“The mayor doesn’t have a vote on that, it’s the city council,” Anderson said. “Right now the majority of those (members) would not vote to do away with property taxes.”
Both candidates agreed that the city should have a role in encouraging the local economy that included providing infrastructure and a background for development.
Carey said he thought it was important to be as friendly as possible in addition to providing support.
“We have to go out in all the different forums and promote Soldotna and the awesome city that it is,” Carey said. “I certainly did that during my three terms as mayor ... I liked greeting people as they got off the buses at the visitor’s center and they came from all over. They were, quite frankly, they were very amazed the mayor of the town was there to help them get off the bus and to welcome them.”
Carey, who wore a fire hydrant tie to the meeting, said he also supported repainting the city’s fire hydrants bright red, white and blue again.
To attract new business to Soldotna, Anderson said he’d like to see development that would attract people to the community year round.
Carey said he supported public and private partnerships that would attract new business, but thought the city should be careful where it invests.
“The city, on its own, should not be putting a great deal of tax money into structures that will have to be financed,” Carey said.
Both candidates had ideas for increasing the city’s tourism revenue.
“We need a much larger effort in terms of what can be done in the winter,” Carey said. “I think the Tsalteshi Trails is ... one of the very good parts of what the city has done to promote, the community got behind it and they do almost all of the work maintaining the trails.”
Anderson said he thought tourism opportunities that did not impact the Kenai River should be considered.
“One of the things that has been suggested is to increase the amount of eco-tourism that’s available,” he said. “One of my colleagues suggested that we need to build a bike trail from Soldotna to Homer and you could then set up all kinds of possibilities for use. I’ve maintained for a long time that we ought to think about trying to make this into a world class biathlon center.”
When discussing capital project priorities, Carey said he knew it was popular to discuss fancier projects, but would rather see the city upgrade its water and sewer system.
“We have pipes in the ground that are 40 and 50 years old,” he said. “We’re having significant, I won’t say leakage, but we’re having some loss of line. It is not colorful, it is not fun to put in new lines for water and sewer because you dig up people’s yards and roads.”
Anderson said the Soldotna Sports Center needed to be repaired and potentially expanded and thought parts of the Envision Soldotna 2030 plan should be implemented quickly.
“I would like to see ties with the community college. By that I mean physical size as well as trying to expand that program,” Anderson said. “What do people really want? They want the water to run, the sewage to work, the roads to be plowed, those are the things that the city really needs to concentrate and manage.”
Both candidates said they supported annexation in situations when both the affected residents and the city approved it.
When asked about their differences and strengths as individual candidates, Anderson said both he and Carey were nervous talking in front of people.
“He and I agree on probably 90 percent or 95 percent of the issues, I think it’s probably as much style as anything else,” he said. “I think I deal pretty well with people, I try to solve people’s problems ... I don’t carry any basic political philosophy that makes me not be able to see the other side of an issue.”
Carey joked that both he and Anderson were left-handed.
“That’s a big thing, in picking where to sit I wouldn’t be bumped into,” he said as the audience laughed.
“I have thought about this issue a great deal,” he said. “I believe my highest and best calling is to be a public servant, I believe (Anderson’s) highest and best calling is to be a doctor and he does it well.”
Rashah McChesney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.