Voters get last chance to hear answers

Soldotna pitches events center to mostly empty house

Posted: Monday, October 01, 2001

Hopefully voter turnout Tuesday will be stronger than the turnout at Soldotna City Hall Wednesday when Mayor David Carey, his council and staff held an open forum to talk about the proposed events center.

Far more people were at the 5:30 p.m. meeting to answer questions than ask them, though Carey was undeterred.

The forum was to better educate voters on the city's $3.5 million bond proposition that will be on Tuesday's Soldotna ballot. If it is approved, the city would be authorized to sell the bonds to help fund the $7.4 million events center.

"We need to be very clear that we will not sell the bonds until enough money is ready to build the center," the mayor said. "And it is not our intent to spend any more on this if it is not a positive vote."

If the measure is approved b the voters, Carey said he did not anticipate going to market with the bonds for at least a year, maybe longer. It may take that long for the city to drum up financial support from other sources for the center.

The city settled on a $3.5 million bond proposal over a $5 million one to ensure taxes would not increase. At $3.5 million, the city could pay off the bond from existing revenue, with no increase in taxes. The money to pay off the bond will come from a portion of 1 percent of the city's sales tax that is dedicated to capital improvements.

"Under no circumstances will there be an increase in taxes. The size and scope of the events center is predicated on no new taxes," Carey said.

Originally envisioned as a convention center to attract outside gatherings, the smaller events center came out of pubic forums and studies by consultants.

"It is primarily for Kenai Peninsula community use," said Kenai architect Bill Kluge, who designed the building.

While the building has soaring spinnaker-like skylights and a long curved interior wall, Kluge said the building is still very "straight-framed."

"The only way to take cost out is to reduce the square footage," Carey added.

Kluge said at $200 per square foot, the Soldotna events center compares nicely to the new convention center planned for Anchorage at $500 per square foot.

"We wanted a building we could use for years to come," said vice mayor Jim Stogsdill. "We didn't want some chopped down building that would be obsolete in a few years."

With a maturity of 10 years, and a payment of between $400,000 and $450,000 a year, the bond would cost the city between $4 million and $4.5 million.

"This events center is very doable," said council member Jane Stein.

In other council news:

Carey got council permission to seek legislative approval for naming the Sterling Highway bridge after David Douthit, a former Soldotna resident and the only Alaskan killed in the Gulf War, and other veterans.

Carey proposed appointing a large number of students as ex officio members to the city's boards and commissions and to the student advisory group to the police force. The council also approved adding a student representative to the city council, a position the mayor held 31 years ago. Any senior student who lives inside city limits is eligible to apply. The student representative's vote on ordinances and resolutions will be noted, though not counted in the tallying of votes.

The council also approved the appointments of Diana Spann and City Manager Tom Boedeker as the Soldotna members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Economic Development District board of directors.

Parks and Recreation Director Andrew Carmichael was authorized to waive $840 in ice time fees to attract the state small schools hockey tournament in February at the Soldotna Sports Center. The center already is scheduled to host the state large school championships a week later.

The council bought the Soldotna Police Department a new sport-utility vehicle for the price of $31,681. It is a Ford Expedition from Cal Worthington Ford in Anchorage. It was one of two bids the city received, the other was from Kenai Chrysler Center for a Dodge Durango. Police Chief Shirley Warner said the Durango did not meet the bid specifications, including a more precise speedometer, vinyl flooring and front tow hooks.

The council heard a pitch from Jerry Lopez Sr. and Jerry Lopez Jr., asking to be allowed to sell fireworks in the city around New Year's Day. Carey said if the pair received approval from the Kenai Peninsula Borough, he could consider the request. Currently, fireworks are banned in the borough and the city year-round.

The municipal elections will be held Tuesday. Polls for both Soldotna precincts are open at city hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. In addition to the events center bond, there will be three council seats up for grabs. In two, candidates are running unopposed, but in the third, Stein faces a challenge from Fred Sturman.

The next council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 10.

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