1. What are your priorities for the next term?
The last three years in Soldotna were productive, yet we have more to accomplish to ensure a quality, sustainable community for future generations. Key priorities include:
- Updating our code to reflect the way we currently operate and better define the expectations for those that want to conduct business in the City of Soldotna.
- Actively supporting the conservation of the resources of our watersheds and the Kenai River and providing incentives for those that make the right conservation choices.
- Evaluating eventual solutions for the relocation of Soldotna’s wastewater outfall outside of the Kenai River watershed.
- Prioritizing the objectives of our comprehensive plan into a strategic action plan.
- Assembling a team of primary user groups to evaluate the recreational needs of our community.
- Evaluating the need for Soldotna to become a home rule city.
- Examining the potential for fair annexation for areas currently receiving city services or directly affecting the Soldotna economy.
- Completing a gap analysis of which types of new business to encourage in Soldotna that compliment existing businesses.
- Evaluating the potential to provide a teen recreational facility.
- Identifying public safety gaps and required improvements to get people safely to and from facilities throughout the city.
- Expanding our 5-year capital plan toward improving new and aging infrastructure in residential and commercial zones.
- Evaluating new ways to operate more efficiently, including partnerships with other municipalities, in an effort to maintain a low cost of living in Soldotna.
2. What is the biggest issue facing Soldotna right now?
In my humble opinion, there is never a single “most” significant issue facing a municipality. Therefore, I’ll group significant issues into three categories in the interest of prioritized brevity:
Economy — The local economy defines the limits of what a smaller community is able to accomplish. Soldotna enjoys a revenue stream that is 90-plus% sales tax based, and serves as home to the Kenai Peninsula College, the Kenai Peninsula Borough seat and the Central Peninsula Hospital. We realize strong revenues from the visitor, sport fishing and commercial fishing industries. However, the significant decline of one of Soldotna’s primary industries would challenge our community. We must support all responsible local industries and continue looking for ways to diversify our economy.
Identity — We must further understand the vision the people of Soldotna have for the future of our community. As requested by our constituents, we’ve made recent code revisions to eliminate the potential for another Timber Wolf Condominium. Yet, to avoid future dissatisfaction due to another empty building or failed project, we must continue to develop quality planning processes while involving as many community stakeholders as possible.
Quality-of-Life — We live in the Soldotna area primarily due to the health and wealth of our natural resources and outdoor recreational opportunities. Most quality-of-life issues are directly tied to the health of our watersheds, the salmon runs of the Kenai River, quality parks, trails and recreational infrastructure. The City must remain involved in the conservation of our resources to ensure their sustainability.
3. Is Soldotna in good financial standing?
The City of Soldotna currently benefits from being in enviable financial standing. In four years we have gone from a city that audited poorly with many findings to a city with perfect audits for the past three years.
We sought out Manager Semmens, an accountant with a reputation for not spending unnecessarily. His reputation has proven to be accurate. Teamed with a conservative mayor/council and Finance Director Melanie Lewis, we have cut the budget significantly; in spite of the higher than usual uncontrollable costs associated with health care.
We will continue to manage the City conservatively; trimming where we can and operating unconventionally with constant attention toward our responsibility to use hard-earned tax dollars efficiently. We reduced the property tax rate by 30% in 2011 and Soldotna is currently tied with Seward for cities with the lowest mill rates on the Kenai.
We have also educated our constituency through the Popular Annual Financial Report mailed out to the residents of Soldotna last year. The report was designed to explain financial details in laymen’s terms, explaining Soldotna’s revenue streams and exactly how tax dollars are spent.
I encourage the citizens of the greater Soldotna area to become involved in the financial processes of our city. I am always open to new ideas and suggestions and will always listen to your concerns. As long as the Micciche/Semmens team is managing the Soldotna, waste is not a word that will ever accurately describe the City’s management style.
4. What would you change, if anything, about the city’s budget?
Municipal budgets continue to require constant monitoring and adjustment to control the cost of local government. Should health care and related costs continue to increase, tough choices must be made in the future to keep Soldotna affordable.
Since most major projects in Soldotna are vetted at the ballot box, larger expenditures are often due to a choice of the people such as in the case of the library expansion and the Soldotna Community Memorial Park.
We have sharpened our pencils to keep our budget controllable and have significantly reduced our budget to a level from the past. We will continue to remain diligent. Yet, the challenges continue as costs seem to increase almost daily.
What I would change is ensuring that council members and the public consider the difference between what Soldotna needs and what the people of Soldotna want. Soldotna delivers quality essential services and manages the cost effectively. As costs increase, we must vet what our constituents want more carefully as it becomes more necessary that a higher proportion of what we spend resides in the “what we need” column.
I suppose I may not have much to change, since guarding against unnecessary spending it is the only way I know to operate. However, I ask for the support of Soldotna citizens to engage in the process whenever the City seems to be moving in a wasteful direction of spending not associated with essential services, the responsible growth of our city or the conservation of our natural resources.