Annexation discussion continues despite lack of trust

Soldotna is considering annexing one or more of nine areas outside of current city borders, and has brought the conversation outside of city hall, to online and public forums.

So far, posts on the city of Soldotna’s online public forum at soldotna.consider.it have been “considerably more cons,” according the Meagan Picard of The Athena Group, a Washington-based consulting firm hired to run the annexation study. Comments during Picard’s presentation at the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce meeting also skewed in opposition of annexation.

There are nine regions listed for potential annexation by the city, including Funny River West, Skyview, K-Beach South, K-Beach Central, K-Beach North, Knight Drive, Kenai Spur, Sterling Highway and Funny River East.

“I think it’s more likely to be reduced (from the nine areas),” said Soldotna Mayor Pete Sprague when asked if more areas would be added to the list of potential annexation areas, either now or in the future. “… Anything this council does, though, we can’t bind future councils.”

Picard said that there is some interest in annexation because residents would then receive city services and see appealing results from city regulations. On the other hand, those against annexation see it as a money grab, a forced takeover and the impact of city regulations as a costly change to their way of life.

“We know it’s a big emotional decision,” Picard said at the chamber luncheon on Wednesday. “If it’s a possibility to get multiple wins out of this, that’s what we want.”

During the chamber meeting, a handful of residents were on hand to express their opinion on annexation and their lack of trust with the city of Soldotna.

“The city already knows what the public thinks about this,” Brian Olson, who serves as the president of the activist group Borough Residents Against Annexation. “We’re tired of being treated like parasites on the outside of the city. We support the city … but this is a life changing decision.”

A major issue brought up on the message boards is the idea of a “forced annexation,” where many property owners feel it’s unfair to annex property owners without a vote from the property owners, who may have made a conscious choice to live outside of city limits.

Picard shared a story from a resident who resides off of K-Beach Road in an area being studied for annexation.

“He wants to be able to do what he wants on his property. His primary concerns were about building codes, but there were others as well, such as leash laws,” Picard wrote. “When asked if he would be ok with annexation if the city did not impose some of those regulations in his area, he said no … He doesn’t trust the city to do what they say they will do … when asked if any of the higher service levels that the city offers were of interest to him (such water and sewer and law enforcement), he indicated that these are not things that he values. He is happy with his septic and well, and he doesn’t think that government should be offering some of the services that the city does.”

The city of Soldotna has released detailed information explaining the major differences between city residents and residents or businesses of the borough who live outside of city limits.

Within city limits, businesses must collect an additional 3-percent sales tax for the city on top of the Kenai Peninsula Borough 3-percent sales tax, making the total sales tax rate within city limits 6-percent.

“All residents (and tourists) pay sales tax that support city operations when they shop at businesses in the city,” the document states. “Many businesses in our area that are generally considered ‘Soldotna’ businesses, are actually outside our borders and therefore don’t collect sales tax to support city services.”

Property owners within Soldotna pay property taxes at a total mill rate of 7.61 in comparison to the borough’s total mill rate of 8.51.

“A city property owner’s bill includes a portion dedicated to the city, while a borough property owner’s bill includes a portion for borough roads,” according to the city.

The city also highlights differences in water and sewer services, road maintenance, public safety and building codes, saying that any residents in annexed areas would be able to receive the city services currently offered in compared to borough services.

The Soldotna annexation conversation continues this week with meetings held at the Soldotna Public Library on Monday and Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then again from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com

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