Bower: Study needed before city decides to buy golf course

Soldotna City Council Seat D

Posted: Thursday, September 27, 2007

Name: Lydia Bower

Age: 32

Occupation: Homemaker

Family: Husband, David; children, Jordan, Michaela, Melissa, Trinity, Justice and Haven

Education: Associates

Organizations and special interests: Fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Little League and Youth Soccer coach and Boy Scout leader

Previously held elected office: None

1. How much residential development should the City allow in the commercial district? Should the high-value commercial district be preserved for businesses?

This is a complex question sparked by the recent condominium development on the Sterling Highway. Historically, Soldotna has never restricted residential development within the commercial district, being careful not to over-zone. Yet, zoning serves an important function in separating noncompatible uses, and preventing conflicts in noise, safety, parking, etc. This question could be rephrased to read, "How much commercial development should be allowed in the residential district?" and be just as valid a question. Either way, this is an issue that will need occasional revisiting as Soldotna continues to mature and transition. Residents are asking, "How do we want our town to look in the future? How do we want to see Soldotna develop? Should high density residential displace businesses?" That needs to be decided by those who live here, as well as the business owners who contribute so much to our community.

2. What can be done to expedite building a City cemetery? Should the City manager be given a firm deadline to start building it?

Every community needs a cemetery, and at this point the City is doing all it can to make that a reality. The Cemetery Task Force has just been re-formed. They have been given a budget and have identified potential properties. After their first meeting, they will make a recommendation to the Council. As far as a deadline, it is the City Council's responsibility to give the Manager a target date, which they haven't. The first hurdle is location, and any deadline is dependent on location. Particularly, if we use land the City already owns, it is reasonable to expect that we should be doing groundbreaking by the end of June 2008. Why should the City operate a cemetery? Who better than a public entity, with a long-term, vested interest in the continuity of service and the proper maintenance of historical records.

3. What can Soldotna do to get the Kenai River off the impaired water body list? Is enough being done already?

This a problem bigger than Soldotna. We, by ourselves, can do very little; we must work together with Kenai and the State to develop a comprehensive plan. The river is managed by several agencies, and it needs to be stated which of these agencies is in charge. The responsibility is on the State to declare which agency will make the final decision and which one we can hold accountable to make corrections. We have been given seven years to come up with a solution and seven years to implement a solution. Fourteen years is too long for this label to sit on the river. We absolutely cannot accept that timeline. We must strongly petition the federal government to take us off the endangered list, using compelling language, and insist that the State take action. This listing hinders development and harms our City.

4. How can the City ensure Birch Ridge Golf Course is not sold to a developer? Should it be zoned recreational or be restricted to some similar use; should the City purchase it?

Is operating a golf course a function of the City? The costs to our City need to be carefully considered. We're looking at a large purchase price, considerable operation and maintenance expenses, and reduction in our property tax base. A golf course is seasonal and single purpose, its profitability is questionable, and its future costs, to be supported by the rest of Soldotna, are a large unknown. A feasibility study has been conducted for $10,000, but before we spend more money or proceed further any decision should include a vote of the people. It must be put on the ballot.

5. Should property taxes or sales taxes be raised to pay for public servants' pensions under PERS? What other solutions to the PERS unfunded liability situation should the City explore?

First, it must be clearly stated that at no time did Soldotna fail to make a payment. We made our payments, plus paid an additional one million. We have been more than responsible. Second, the burden should be on the State! There have been several formulas proposed to determine City responsibility. Regardless of the proposal, the Alaska Municipal League proposal, the Governor's proposal, or the House proposal, we have already paid our share. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to raise taxes.

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