By PHIL HERMANEK
Convincing City Manager Tom Boedeker he isn't old enough to retire is what one candidate for Soldotna City Council said is the biggest issue facing the city.
Drawing a laugh from a crowd of business leaders including Boedeker during the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce candidate forum Tuesday, Pete Micciche said more seriously that preserving the quality of life in Soldotna tops his list of issues.
Micciche (pronounced Mih-CHICK-ee) and four others are vying for Councilwoman Jane Stein's Seat D. Others include Lydia Bower, Linda Murphy, Chris Pankratz and Penny Vadla. Pankratz did not attend the chamber lunch meeting.
"Increased support for our public servants" is the biggest issue according to Bower, whose husband is a Soldotna police officer.
"Not just our city employees, but our borough employees, hospital employees, our nurses," Bower said.
Murphy placed the selection of a new city manager as the number-one issue facing the city. Boedeker has made it known that he will retire from the position in August next year.
Vadla said creating a comprehensive plan for the city is paramount. "The existing comprehensive plan which was done in 1995 is too old," she said.
Besides Stein's council seat, those of Ed Sleater and Shane Horan are also up for election. Both incumbents, however, are running unopposed.
Chamber President and forum moderator Lisa Roberts asked how the candidates would mitigate a sudden drop in sales tax revenue with a property tax hike or a reduction in city services.
Micciche said the city would need to balance between both options. In advance of such a dilemma, however, he said the city needs to look at becoming less dependent on sales taxes. One possibility, he said would be a seasonal head tax on visitors to Soldotna.
Before offering his response, Micciche asked Roberts if she couldn't "ask easier questions, like what color the library expansion should be." His query drew a chuckle.
Declaring herself a fiscal conservative, Bower said she would opt for a reduction in services.
Murphy said she favored both an increase in property tax and a reduction in services, adding that she did not believe the current property tax rate in Soldotna is too high.
"One-point-six-five mills is not so high," Murphy said. "We also need to ask the borough to raise the sales tax cap."
Vadla said she would not like to see a drop in services, but at the same time, she does not want property taxes to go up.
"We need to look at a state tax," Vadla said.
When asked to name one long-range goal for the city, Vadla said she would like to see the city's commercial district remain commercial and the residential district kept residential. Vadla has attended recent city council meetings expressing her opposition to large residential developments being built in the city's business district, namely the Timber Wolf condominiums, which she has said are too close to the Sterling Highway.
Bower said she "would like to see more work done on the annexation front." She said she would favor more development along the commercial corridors leading toward Sport Lake and Ridgeway.
Micciche said he would like to have "a balanced community, one that is well-funded and does not close out young people trying to come back." He cited development in coastal Maine that now requires residents to cross through 20 miles of high-priced development to get to seaside areas where they want to go for recreation.
Murphy acknowledged the need for balance, but said the city also needs to look at recreation.
"The city should carefully consider the acquisition of Birch Ridge golf course," Murphy said.
Before the questioning began, candidates were allowed to introduce themselves and state their reasons for running for office.
Murphy, who retired in 2005 from the Kenai Peninsula Borough clerk position after eight years, said she sees this as an opportunity to give back to the community.
"I will always listen to you; I will put the voters' interests first," Murphy said.
Vadla, who moved to Soldotna from Ninilchik in 2003, retired from more than 30 years as a school teacher.
She said, "When my daughter served as the student representative on the Soldotna City Council, I realized I did not know enough about Soldotna."
"I want to be a part of the decisions the city is making: annexation in four areas, hiring a new city manager, how our town is going to look in the future, how we want the river developed, how to ensure river access," said Bower. "I am a young, stay-at-home mom who comes with a new set of eyes."
Micciche said he has been involved in community development projects and feels the city needs some help on planning issues.
"People don't know when they come into Soldotna and when they leave. I'd like people to know when they're in our city," Micciche said.
He also said the city needs to have a final resting place and said he is not sure residents want the prime commercial area to be high-density residential.
"In 25 years, when (the residential complexes) are not so shiny and new, is that what we want on our highway?" he asked rhetorically.
The municipal election is Oct. 2.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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