Borough residents debate ways to oppose annexation

Borough residents who oppose the city of Soldotna’s plan to annex are still wary of the city’s intentions and are looking for ways to raise awareness.

The city of Soldotna recently issued a study it commissioned on the economic effects of annexing areas currently outside city limits. The firm that completed the analysis, Anchorage-based Northern Economics, studied nine areas and provided conclusions about their revenue benefits to the city as well as the effects of providing services such as police or city water and sewer to those areas.

The study is not a firm finding — the city has not decided whether to annex, nor whether it will change the areas included in the study. Before any actions are taken, the city administration will take a proposal to the Soldotna City Council for approval.

A number of residents either in or near the proposed annexation areas, most from the Kalifornsky Beach Road area, gathered Monday at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association building to discuss the study and how to raise awareness of the problems they see with the process.

Many are concerned that those in the areas proposed for annexation will not receive a vote. Former Soldotna mayor Nels Anderson had promised the residents who would be annexed a chance to vote, but the city does not have to hold a vote — it has the option to draft a petition and go directly to the Local Boundary Commission, a state administered board, to expand its borders.

The residents who attended the meeting Monday said this was unfair. Brian Olson, the president of the citizens’ group Borough Residents Against Annexation, said another tactic would be to try to get sympathetic Soldotna residents onto the Soldotna City Council during the general election in October. The seat for District 30 in the Alaska House of Representatives is also open because incumbent Kurt Olson does not plan to return, and if the city decides to seek Legislative approval rather than go to a vote, the representative from the district will have a chance to weigh in on the plan as well.

“We have to become politically involved,” Olson said. “That’s probably the strongest point we have right now.”

Besides concerns about city code enforcement — the group kept a copy of the city’s municipal codes in a binder at the front of the room — many expressed concerns about the potential of increased sales taxes impacting businesses. One of the proposed areas for annexation is a stretch of Kalifornsky Beach Road thick with businesses, including several gas stations and a grocery store that many residents say they use regularly. If the businesses were incorporated into the city of Soldotna, the sales taxes they would have to charge would be doubled — the borough charges 3 percent and the city charges an additional 3 percent.

Olson said at the meeting some people had approached him and said they would not shop in Soldotna if the annexation went forward. He said one of the tools the group could use to oppose annexation in the future would be to boycott the businesses in town, inciting the businesses to go to the city and ask for a change in policy. Some opposed it because it would punish the businesses first.

Three of the eight candidates for the Alaska House of Representatives District 30 seat attended the meeting and offered an opinion on annexation. Gary Knopp, a current Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly member representing the Kalifornsky area, spoke first, saying the Alaska Constitution gives Soldotna the right to look at annexation, but plan as it is currently stands is a bad one.

“This particular plan in my opinion is very fragmented, it’s not comprehensive in any way, shape or form, and matter of fact, it’s just cherrypicking,” Knopp said at the meeting. “This is all about revenue … two reasons I would oppose this plan is because everybody that I represent has already said, ‘No, we don’t want to be annexed,’ and as an assembly member, that’s the position I would take. The number two reason is because I just think it’s a bad plan, just a plain bad plan.”

He said he also found fault in that the city does not plan to bring additional services to the residents it may annex. The city has other options to gain additional revenue, such as raising the mill rate or becoming a home-rule city through its charter commission and reinstating a year-round nonprepared foods tax.

Kelly Wolf, a former borough assembly member whom Knopp defeated in the general election last October, said he opposes the annexation plan because of the voting issue. One of the proposed annexation areas, the commercial corridor on Kalifornsky Beach Road, has little to no population included in it and thus would not have many voters even if the annexation did go to a public vote, he said.

“They’re trying to carve their little section just for revenue,” Wolf said.

The third candidate, Daniel Lynch — who is running as an unaffiliated candidate — said he has been coming to the meetings since the beginning, and though he is running, he came as a citizen. He agreed with several residents who mentioned that they did not think the city’s annexation plan met the requirements for the Local Boundary Commission to consider allowing them to annex, such as demonstrated need. He said he also opposes the annexation plan and he thought most Soldotna residents probably do as well.

“I don’t think more than a handful of the city residents think annexation is good or desirable,” Lynch said.

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