Brian Mazurek / Peninsula ClarionSigns protesting the annexation petition proposed by the City of Soldotna are seen along the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna.

Brian Mazurek / Peninsula Clarion Signs protesting the annexation petition proposed by the City of Soldotna are seen along the Kenai Spur Highway in Soldotna.

Annexation decision could go to voters

Boundary commission opens 7-day comment period on whether or not to send annexation to ballot box

Members of the public have one week to weigh in on the latest consideration of Alaska’s Local Boundary Commission, which could decide next Thursday to send Soldotna’s Annexation Petition to the ballot box.

The commission met Tuesday in continuation of a decisional meeting that began on Aug. 5, the purpose of which was to approve, deny or amend the city’s petition to annex 2.63 square miles of territory bordering existing city limits.

At the Aug. 5 meeting, Commissioner Lance Roberts motioned to convert the petition from legislative review to local option, which means the approval of the boundary changes would be contingent on a vote from the residents of Soldotna and the affected area rather than being sent to the state Legislature for approval.

Local Boundary Commission Staff Member Jedidiah Smith, who wrote the final report on the Soldotna Annexation Petition, said that changing a petition from legislative review to local option would be an unprecedented move by the commission. After a lengthy discussion and a closed-door executive session, the Aug. 5 meeting was recessed in order to give commissioners time to consider the motion.

Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen told the Clarion that on Aug. 30, the City sent a letter to the commission asking them to suspend procedural requirements and allow for public feedback on the new motion before a decision is made. The commission granted Queen’s request when they resumed the decisional meeting on Oct. 20, accepted comments from the City and opened a period of seven days for the general public to submit comments.

Smith said that the commission intended this public comment period to be specifically around the motion to convert the petition to local option.

In the comments submitted to the commission, Queen and City Attorney Brooks Chandler make the argument that a local option petition would not be in the community’s best interest because of the small number of voters who would ultimately be eligible to make the decision.

“Converting the petition to Local Option does not achieve the goal of putting the decision in the hands of those who are most impacted,” the statement’s conclusion reads. “The majority of business owners and landowners in the Territory would be ineligible to vote in the Territory, because they reside elsewhere. Instead, the decision would be made by a smaller number of residents in the territory, only a small fraction of whom participated in the Commission’s public process despite multiple opportunities.”

Queen explained on Tuesday that, if the petition were to go to a vote, there would be two elections that take place: One among City of Soldotna residents, and one for people who reside in the affected area. Smith said that a majority of voters in both of those elections would have to approve the petition for it to pass. Queen said that an estimated 140 people live in the affected area.

At the meeting scheduled for Oct. 29, the commission may adopt the motion and convert the petition, accept the petition as is, deny the petition entirely or postpone the decision for a later date, Smith said. If a decision is made at the Oct. 29 meeting, a written decision will follow some time in November.

Alaskans can submit written comments regarding this decision by next Tuesday, but no oral public testimony will be heard during the Oct. 29 meeting.

Comments can be submitted to lbc@alaska.gov until Oct. 27 at 5 p.m.

Reach reporter Brian Mazurek at bmazurek@peninsulaclarion.com.

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