Soldotna residents and business owners munched on tacos while council candidates answered questions at a forum hosted by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday.
Chamber Board of Directors President Ryan Kapp moderated the noon event at the Soldotna Sports Center.
Seat B, 1-year term candidates Meggean Bos and Dave Carey and Seat E, 3-year term candidates Keith Baxter and Paul Whitney answered questions about property taxes, tourism and annexation as well as visitor center and conference center developments.
Candidates were asked if they would support eliminating Soldotna’s 0.65 mill property tax thus relying on the city’s 3 percent sales tax for tax revenue.
Bos, Baxter and Whitney said property tax shouldn’t be eliminated.
Bos said without knowing what sales tax revenues will be each year, property tax should be kept low and level to ensure services can be paid for.
As a homeowner, Whitney said he feels he should contribute and agreed with Bos that property tax needs to be in place for the future incase “sales tax goes south.”
Baxter is in favor of keeping property tax in place because it is easier to eliminate the tax than to bring it back, if needed.
Carey said because property tax brings in 1.9 percent of the city’s revenues, he would support getting rid of those taxes, but “it’s not going to make a major change.”
Candidates were asked about the importance of tourism to Soldotna and whether they would support a bed tax to support the industry. All four agreed the visitor industry is very important to the city.
However, Carey said other contributors, such as the health care industry, schools and Kenai Peninsula College are also important to the local economy.
Bos said along with tourism, it is important to have diverse economic contributors and would support other actives that would add variety. As far as a bed tax, Bos said she would need more information about how the tax would affect businesses.
Tourism needs to be expand to be a year round contributor, Whitney said. He has seen a bed tax work as a funding source while serving on Fairbanks City Council in the 1980s, but the citizens need to decide whether to support a tax and what the percentage should be.
“No other industry can compare (to tourism) in Soldotna,” Baxter said.
Baxter thinks the option of imposing a tax on tourists can be explored, but he doesn’t know if a bed tax is the best option. He suggested a smaller tax more widely distributed as an alternative.
About the topic of annexation, candidates agreed that if annexation of outlying areas is examined, the concerns of the people in the areas of consideration need to be reviewed.
“It has got to be something that is beneficial to everyone, the landowners and the city,” Whitney said.
Baxter said to bring in more large-scale retail and commercial developments annexation is inevitable and supports a starting a “serious conversation” about annexing outlying areas.
Carey said because he has discussed the topic of annexation with people who would be affected and who told him they aren’t in favor of it he does not support annexation. However, he is in favor of bringing Skyview into city limits, especially because there are no homeowners between the school and the city. He said because it will become a middle school, it should be annexed so Soldotna Police can provide protection in the area.
Bos said not only the outlying residents’ concerns need to be considered but also city residents would need to be brought into the conversation whether or not they want land annexed. She thinks Skyview would be a “great piece of land to start with” because the city could encourage winter activities at Tsalteshi Trails.
Candidates had somewhat different opinions about the whether they would support a conference center and what the city’s options are for that type of facility.
Tourism needs a conference facility and Soldotna has been held back because of its lack of one, Baxter said. He thinks more discussion needs to happen about the best options for a center whether it be a part of the visitor center, the sports center or a separate building.
Whitney said the need for a center has been and issue for years, but it needs to be separate from the sports center. However, as far as building a facility, Whitney said many things would need to be considered — how would it be paid for, where and how would it be built, what the plan is to attract conferences, etc.
A multi-use facility, such as conference space expansion at the sports center, rather than a stand-alone center would have support from Bos.
Carey said taxpayers don’t want to fund a conference center. He said considering the sales tax visitors who use the sports center pay to the city, the facility is cost effective and a conference center must also be cost effective. He thinks a conference facility would compete with some businesses, and he doesn’t want to see that.
With the city’s recent purchasing of the Davis Block property, all candidates support constructing a visitor center on the property. They agreed that the river is a great option for an improved center.
Regina Daniels is seeking re-election to council Seat D, and is running unopposed.
Election day is Oct. 1. Soldotna City Hall is the city’s voting site.
Kaylee Osowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.