1. What is the biggest issue Soldotna faces?
Meggean Bos, Seat B: One issue that affects every person and business in Soldotna is the balance between taxes collected and expenses.
Prior to 2008, spending by the city increased over 150% in 9 years. Much of this was due to poorly mismanaged funds. Property taxes have been cut three times since 2008. We are now the lowest taxed municipality on the Kenai. We are currently taxed below the surrounding unincorporated Borough.
Currently, we have a healthy fund balance. If essential services increase in cost, we have a “safety net” to still fund them without increasing property or sales tax. I believe in these services, such as police protection, quality roads, a library, animal control, and the cemetery. I do not believe in adding to these unless a majority of the citizens request additional services.
It sounds great to eliminate property or sales taxes. One can look at the current fund balance and think, “there is a lot of money there.” However, if we need more roads plowed or equipment renovated, the funding can take away from this balance.
Having consistent taxes, rather than cutting down and then increasing them, helps the city, as well as citizens, to be able to financially plan for the future.
Dave Carey, Seat B: The biggest issue facing Soldotna is that local government is taking more out of our pockets in taxes and fees than what is needed. Looking at Page 1 of the 2014 Soldotna City Budget, the budget shows that even as city spending increased by 21.9% the city surplus continued to grow.
Total Expenditures Fund Balance (Surplus)
2012 $ 8,401,309 begin 2012 $19,159,289
2014 $10,246,680 end 2014 $19,301,538
up $1,845,371 (+21.9%)
Needed services must be provided; but, the $19.3 Million Dollar Fund Balance/Surplus should cause discussion regarding taxes and fees. The surplus equals $4,875 for each of Soldotna’s approximately 4000 residents. The surplus is too high and there needs to be a public discussion.
I will work to reduce the amount the City takes from taxpayers to what is needed? The Soldotna community would be better served by reducing the $19.3 million dollar surplus and reducing fees and taxes.
Regina Daniels, Seadt D: Economic Development … We need to reach out to the community and find out how we can keep existing businesses in our city as well as attract new businesses. Administration has currently put together an economic development strategy group of community leaders, administrators and local businesses to help answer some of the questions of where our City is headed in this area.
Keith Baxter, Seat E: The biggest issue facing Soldotna today is its ability to adapt to ongoing demographic and economic changes in the area.
Our population is maturing. From 2000 to 2010, our population grew by 10.75%, while the number of people aged 65 or older grew by 49.86%. The ability to attract and retain residents in their retirement years is positive, but we also need to make sure that there is enough economic opportunity to attract and retain young families and professionals as well.
Our fisheries are changing. Activities related to personal-use, sport and commercial fishing have long benefited the city in the form of increased sales tax revenues, increased property values and low mill rates; however, low king returns are having an impact on the regulation of these fisheries and made it difficult for people of all gear types to plan for upcoming seasons.
Paul Whitney, Seat E: We are fortunate in the fact that the City of Soldotna has a healthy fund balance which will help us meet most any crisis the City may face and still provide funds for worthy projects the residents would like to see. We need to be able to attract new businesses and new residents to our City for a couple of reasons. New businesses can mean new construction which will provide employment plus employees for the new business. New residents can spur new home construction and increase and strengthen the City tax base. Both new businesses and residents provide for a stronger and healthier economic base for our community. The issue is how we accomplish this. It will take a joint effort by the City Council and the residents of the City to format a comprehensive plan for developing the Soldotna of the future.
2. If elected, what are some of your goals for the upcoming term?
Bos: The term I am seeking is for only one year. During this time, I can build a foundation for the future. I support responsible city ordinances. However, I believe some may need to be reevaluated. While serving on the Soldotna Planning and Zoning Commission. I have experienced some that are outdated. I will work to protect the people of Soldotna from unnecessary regulation. It should not be a significant disadvantage to build a home or run a business in the city.
I believe that public officials must listen to their constituents and the public process should be transparent and open. I will defend the main quality-of-life reasons we choose to live in Soldotna. My job as a teacher and my volunteer work puts me in direct contact to hear the voices of a variety of people. Many times, these voices are not heard.
Carey: Along with discussion regarding taxes, I would do everything possible to see that Soldotna High School remains Soldotna High School with no change in mascot or school colors. Our top goal in education must always be to prepare our children to be good, civic-minded citizens and provide opportunities for a successful economic future of their choice.
The proposed “Teen Center” should be run with non-profit status under the “Junior Achievement” format. It is appropriate to have our young adults take on some responsibility and obligation for providing youth activities. We must always be willing to assist young people but we should never give them the impression that government provides a free lunch.
Soldotna schools, churches, families, and non-profits like Little League, KPHA and Scouting do great work with and for young adults. We must always work to strengthen families, community and protect our quality of life.
Daniels: I’d like to see the Envision 2030 comp plan continue to move forward. We currently have a new recreation and trails plan that is 95% complete, I would like to see these recommendations implemented to improve the connectivity of our trails, upgrade our parks and renovate and expand the sports center.
Also, as I mentioned above, I am excited to see our economic development team bring some new ideas to administration that can help us steer Soldotna into a better place to do business, recreate and visit.
Baxter: Moving forward with improvements to the Soldotna Sports Center.
On June 12th the Soldotna City Council enacted ordinance 2013-16 to fund the development of a Master Plan for the expansion and renovation of our 30-year-old Soldotna Sports Center facility. On September 5th the final draft of the Soldotna Sports Center Facility Condition Assessment & Master Plan Concept was published, and the project continues to progress.
This project will provide year-round benefits to the community that are many and varied, and as a member of City Council I will work with the administration and our state delegation to ensure this project is funded and completed in a timely, cost-effective manner.
Also, a teen center pilot program will soon open in Soldotna. As the needs of this program are identified and communicated to the municipality, my ears will be open.
Whitney: We have lived in Soldotna for almost 26 years now and one thing which impressed us when we first built our home was the road maintenance performed by the City. As I have gotten older I find I tend to get a bit out of shape and like me a number of our City streets have gotten a bit out of shape. Some of our streets need more than just another patch on top of the patch put in last year. They need to be repaired and a new surface put on. Hand in hand with the roads are the sidewalks and bicycle trails. We have a lot of young families, children and seniors who use them and without proper maintenance and repairs there is the potential for a serious accident and injury. I would like to see our roads, sidewalks and bicycle trails brought up to a higher standard.
3. In May City Manager Mark Dixson said, Soldotna needs to start being more business friendly. What are some ways that goal can be achieved?
Bos: I believe in a strong, inviting, and fair business environment. I do not have any “behind the scenes” ties to a business. I think Soldotna should incorporate the needs and feedback from all business owners. It is hard to achieve the goal of being more business friendly if you do not know what the needs of businesses are.
I also believe that we have a variety of areas that diversify our businesses. Our tourism, health care, and college attracts many different residents and visitors. I will support promoting other low-impact visitor activities that occur year-round.
Carey: If Soldotna really wanted to be more business friendly, they would lower taxes during the winter and offer financial incentives for businesses that use existing vacant structures.
Reducing or eliminating the City Tax on gasoline would bring in more residents from around the peninsula to buy in Soldotna. If people knew gas was cheapest in Soldotna, more people would come to Soldotna to do their grocery shopping, eating, and making their retail purchases. Fewer people would travel to Anchorage for their retail shopping because they were buying local in Soldotna.
As Agrium gets re-started, we should prepare for the economic boom. We have many existing unused commercial buildings. We should develop a program with economic incentives for businesses to move into Soldotna and use existing vacant structures.
Many Soldotna businesses are barely surviving. Economic policy that encourages buying local and enhances services offered in Soldotna will help everybody.
Daniels: I’d like Soldotna citizens and businesses to feel comfortable and likeable in their community. When referring to being business friendly, I believe the Store front match program has been a very successful program that the City has implemented in helping businesses “fluff up” they’re curbside image. But I also think we need to review City Code to see if there are any cumbersome codes that may be updated to help us become more business friendly.
Baxter: In many ways the City of Soldotna is already very friendly to private business. Our low mill rate and the Storefront Improvement Program are just two examples of this. The city is also in the process of restructuring some planning-related responsibilities away from the Director of Economic Development and Planning so that the position can focus more on encouraging the local private sector.
This new position, focusing on economic development, will be the appropriate conduit through which business owners, investors and other players in the private sector can communicate to the council and administration what specific actions are needed to create a more friendly business climate.
Sourcing business-friendly ideas from businesses themselves is an approach I have already seen the administration use, and I think that makes a great deal of sense.
Whitney: The City of Soldotna recently established the position of Economic Development Director within the administration to encourage new business development within the City. The City can also assist new businesses by creating a streamlined process for planning and zoning issues, building permits, inspections and other assistance. The City already has a low property tax rate which is attractive for new construction. Businesses don’t just look at incentives offered for committing to a community, but also for what a community offers to their employees. We also need to consider what is important to the employees. Examples are public safety, sporting events and venues, water and sewer, subdivision/lots for new homes, schools, cultural and artistic opportunities, good roads, sidewalks and bicycle trails. Not only do we need to look at how to help a new business become established, but also what we as a community can provide to the new employees.
4. Do you think council and administration do a good job of listening to residents and finding the fairest possible solutions to issues they face?
Bos: We can always improve our listening and communication. While speaking to others in our city, lack of communication is a common frustration. With today’s technology, there is no excuse to not have a conversation with someone when things are questioned or clarification is needed. Knowing decisions of a handful of people will have an enormous effect is very powerful. I am a fresh face and a voice our residents deserve.
I believe that it is time for a fresh approach. I am concerned with moving backward by electing ineffective career politicians. I think it is important to serve a few terms and move aside for people with new ideas and skills. Sometimes things are done a certain way because “that’s how we have always done it.” This is not the best practice for fair solutions. Each situation is very unique and solutions should be based off from an entity, rather than who one knows.
Carey: My experience is that most public servants that work for Soldotna, the school district, the borough or the state, do the very best job possible of protecting us, keeping us healthy, educating our children and supporting a high quality of life. I am especially thankful for the Soldotna city workers that keep our roads and sidewalks open year round. This is a great service to pedestrians and all the many pet owners.
There has been a lack of listening regarding roads and traffic. I believe the residents of Porcupine have been ignored and that the many residents along Kobuk have been subject to unnecessary noise, dust and commercial traffic that should have used the Spur.
Elected leaders need to be pro-active before decisions are made and projects begun, rather than being reactive after a problem has occurred. Everyone living in Soldotna deserves to be heard.
Daniels: Absolutely. In my experience, any time a constituent issue is brought to light the administration and staff makes all efforts necessary to listen, respond and act accordingly. I feel the city and its administration is transparent and forthcoming, and I hope the community perceives us that way.
Baxter: As illustrated by the recent issues surrounding the Special Assessment District for the paving of Porcupine Court., our public process can always use improvement.
That being said, I was very pleased with the way in which my personal concerns were handled when I visited City Hall to inquire about the existence of ordinances which may have prohibited the use of Kobuk Street as a shortcut for big-rigs hauling loads of gravel through town.
While the City informed me that there were no axle-load, noise, safety or local-delivery ordinances that would currently apply, it was an issue they were willing to address.
As a member of City Council, enacting a local-delivery only ordinance for residential areas and listening to other quality-of-life concerns of residents will be a top priority.
Whitney: Council Members and administrators are bound by oaths to uphold laws and regulations which have been established in most cases before they ever took office. They are at times left in the quandary of wanting to do what appears fair, but doesn’t comply with the established laws or regulations. They may want to make a decision which is the fairest solution to an issue, but they are bound by their oath of office to do what the law or regulation requires. The time may have come when that particular law or regulation should be looked at to determine if it is applicable or relevant to the present times. I believe the Elected and appointed officials of the City are currently listening to residents and not only trying to find the fairest solution to an issue, but also the easiest and least expensive way possible.