Soldotna council shies from commitment to horse group

Posted: Monday, June 19, 2000

The city of Soldotna's plans and plans of the Soldotna Equestrian Association bumped into each other at Wednesday's meeting of the Soldotna City Council.

The association, which promotes family horseback riding recreation, wants to build a $1.25 million arena on land it leases from the city along Kalifornsky Beach Road. To qualify for bank financing for the construction, it wants the city to renew its lease for 30 years rather than the customary five-year extension.

But council members, citing the city's uncertain plans for the land, said the new lease proposal was putting the cart before the horse.

"It seems we should have some escape," said council member Jim Stogsdill. "A lot could happen in 30 years."

He expressed concern that getting involved between the bank and the association could entangle the city.

Council member Steve Horn recommended the city consult with other users and move carefully in undertaking such a major commitment.

"We need to wait," he said.

The city is considering expanding the Soldotna Sports Center into a public recreation complex. Such a project could potentially affect the nearby land used by the equestrians, but it is only in the early planning stages.

City Manager Tom Boedeker said potential use conflicts in future decades are a real concern.

"We don't have any present plans for the property," he said, "but it is conceivable we could come up with something."

The council voted unanimously to table the resolution about the lease until the next meeting and asked the administration to schedule a work session on the topic prior to that meeting.

After the meeting, Mayor Ken Lancaster said he thinks the parties involved will work out a feasible way to work together to accomplish their goals.

"I think the council is going to be OK with it," he said. "But they have some legitimate concerns."

In other council business:

n Lancaster vetoed one line item in the 2000-01 budget: the purchase of a new vehicle for the Soldotna Police Department.

Police Chief Shirley Warner requested a sport utility vehicle for the detective sergeant and a new sedan for a patrol sergeant. The city manager removed the sedan from his recommendation but included the SUV. The price tag for the SUV and its special equipment, as it appeared in the budget the council passed May 24, was $40,000.

The mayor, in a memo to the council, said he believed the city could get by for another year without the new vehicles and the money could be better used elsewhere. He cited conservative spending, filling vacancies in the police department and repairs in other departments as higher priorities.

"We could use that money more appropriately to rebuild the front of our two snowblowers," he told the council.

No one moved to override the veto.

Since becoming mayor in 1993, Lancaster has used his veto pen only once before, he said.

After the vote, Warner said she was disappointed, but that the city has been supportive of its police and she understands the need to balance the fiscal realities and needs of various departments.

"The department will not shut down. It will continue to do an excellent job," she said. "We will make it work."

n The city is moving forward with plans to establish a parks and recreation department.

The council voted to hold a public hearing June 28 on the proposal.

The new department does not represent an expansion of the city, but rather an internal reorganization, said Andrew Carmichael, head of the Soldotna Sports Center.

The responsibility for the city's parks has been divided among several departments in the past. The new plan would consolidate all the parks functions and the sports center under Carmichael's management. The move involves modifying job descriptions and defining the jurisdiction of the new department. The changes would be phased in over the rest of this year.

n Floor drain restrictions have been relaxed under an ordinance approved unanimously.

In the past, the city had a blanket prohibition on connecting floor drains to the city system, based on concerns about pollutants with potential to damage the functioning of the waste water treatment plant or the Kenai River. Last year, the city began allowing some hookups under controlled circumstances. The rationale, discussed at past city council meetings, was to accommodate new technical advances that block contaminants from the outflow.

The city code was amended in November to allow floor drain connections under stringent requirements. Wednesday's ordinance sets guidelines and allows additional types of hookups.

n Without comment, the council unanimously approved a request to liberalize restrictions on aerial signs. The old rules limited their display to five times per year, four days at a time at any one location. The new rules allow the displays for up to 55 days per year, with an option for renewal subject to approval from city hall.

The next council meeting will be June 28 at 7:30 p.m. at city hall on Birch Street.



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