More than 30 residents spoke out against the city of Soldotna’s efforts to annex about 4 miles near city boundaries during a public hearing held Saturday.
In June 2018, the Soldotna City Council passed a resolution to start drafting a petition to annex seven areas adjacent to the city limits.
On Saturday, the council sought to gather feedback on the city’s recently released 300-page petition to expand the boundaries of the city. That feedback was overwhelmingly against annexation. Only one resident, out of over 30 speakers, spoke in support of being annexed by the city.
Tyson Cox, a Soldotna City Council member who also owns property in an area slated for annexation, did not participate and will not participate in Thursday’s council vote on whether the city should submit the petition to the Local Boundary Commission due to a conflict of interest. In the petition, the city said they’re hoping to annex nearby areas as a way to respond to growth and development and to more accurately align the city’s corporate boundaries with the community that has developed since the city’s incorporation in 1960.
Through annexation, Soldotna will have the opportunity to glean millions in tax revenue from additional businesses and residents.
Ravin Swan, a K-Beach business owner, along with other speakers on Saturday, said she feels the annexation efforts are just a money grab. Businesses inside city limits compete with shops and retailers located outside of the boundaries. Those inside city limits are subject to 3% borough sales tax and an additional 3% sales tax for the city, a total of 6% sales tax.
Trevor Earl, a resident in the proposed territory, said residents would feel that additional sales tax.
“An extra 3% is an extra 3%,” Earl said.
In its annexation petition, the city of Soldotna said annexation could benefit residents by giving them a voice in city government and lowering property tax rates. Residents in Soldotna pay 8.06 mills, or 0.9 mills less than the tax rate paid by borough residents (8.96 mills) within the territory proposed for annexation, according to the petition. Residents being annexed would also have access to city services, including parks and recreation, a library, animal control, water and waste water utilities, comprehensive zoning, economic development incentives, local police protection and building code review and inspections for commercial and residential construction.
Mitch Michel said he lives a mile from ‘Y’, the intersection of the Sterling Highway and the Kenai Spur Highway. He said his residence is considered to be in the Sterling area, but he feels he belongs in Soldotna. He said he’s supportive of being annexed because of Soldotna Police protection. In the last five years, he’s experienced three break-ins, he said. He also said his neighborhood has dealt with drug-related activity and homeless camps.
“This is going on because we’re not in the city of Soldotna,” he said at Saturday’s meeting. “It occurs on the edges.”
Charles Henry, a Soldotna resident, spoke in opposition to annexation. He said the city needs to focus on providing services to their current residents before expanding its boundaries.
“I already live in Soldotna and you guys fail,” he said. “I have to call repeatedly to get my road grated. You need to provide services to all of Soldotna before you annex and tax another group of people.”
Many of those who spoke on Saturday said there is nothing the city could offer them, and others said they purchased property or run their businesses outside of city limits for a reason.
Matthew Lay owns property in the K-Beach area, where he lives and also runs his business. He’s also the president of Borough Residents Against Annexation, a group seeking to halt Soldotna’s efforts to annex surrounding areas. Like Lay, many people who spoke at Saturday’s meeting spoke in support of allowing the question of annexation to be decided by a vote, instead of the legislative review method.
“We don’t want to be in the city,” Lay said. “We don’t want to be annexed. We ask that you stop and reevaluate and listen to the people and put it up for a vote.”
State law allows municipalities to expand their boundaries through the legislative review process or through voter approval. The legislative process requires municipalities to send a petition to the Local Boundary Commission, and from there the Local Boundary Commission may present proposed changes to the Legislature during the first 10 days of any regular session. Unless the recommendation is denied, any changes will be approved 45 days after the initial presentation or at the end of the session, whichever comes first.
Brian Olson, who lives and works near the proposed area for annexation, said he is appalled the city can annex an area without the explicit consent of the businesses and people in that area.
“Nowhere in America should any citizen be governed by people they did not elect,” Olson said. “That is taxation without representation. It appears the city couldn’t care less about the wishes of the residents.”
Olson encouraged residents to press their local representatives to stand up and fight for their constituents.
Community members at the meeting were also concerned with how the city’s codes and policies would impact their current lifestyles. Driving four wheelers and discharging firearms are permitted in the territory outside of city limits, but many at Saturday’s meeting fear their pastimes would come to an end should the city annex.
Tracy Lay lives and works in the K-Beach area and is worried her family will miss out on opportunities for outdoor recreation.
“I want to teach our daughter to ride an ATV in our yard and go out on all the trails,” she said. “I want to be able to shoot our guns, safely, in our neighborhood, and not have to go to a gun range or wherever you think we have to go to do it,” she said. “We have plenty of woods to hunt in, out of the city. We didn’t buy in the city for a reason.”
Earl said he also wanted to teach his 3-year-old to ride an ATV on his property.
“Squirrels come into my yard and I want to blow them away,” he said. “Not necessarily with a shotgun, that’s a little overkill, but I also don’t want the cops showing up because I’m trying to get rid of a pest. I want the freedom. Do good with what you got and let us live our lives.”
Steve Wright lives near the proposed area for annexation. He worries how city codes would impact neighboring farms and locals who raise animals. “What I need to know is who gives you the authority to change the lifestyles of my community and force the codes and regulations down our throats?” Wright said. “I’m here to speak for residents who have chosen the country way of life.”
People at the meeting told the council they felt like they weren’t being heard. Patricia Patterson, a business owner in an area proposed for annexation told the council they’ve failed the community. “You have not heard us,” Patterson said. “You have not listened. You have failed the people of this community.”
The Soldotna City Council will vote Thursday whether or not the city should submit their petition to the Local Boundary Commission for review. The meeting is at 6 p.m. at Soldotna City Hall.