Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Kenai City Manager Rick Koch speaks about the benefits of belonging to a home-rule community to residents gathered at a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska.

Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Kenai City Manager Rick Koch speaks about the benefits of belonging to a home-rule community to residents gathered at a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Luncheon on Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska.

Charter commission candidates talk home rule

Candidates running for a seat on the charter commission that could be formed after Soldotna’s special election are urging city residents to vote for a step toward home rule.

The special election is Tuesday.

Some of the candidates shared their reasons for running and spoke more in depth about why they would favor a home-rule city during a Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Luncheon Tuesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Each of this year’s candidates were part of the citizen’s initiative to bring the question of home rule back before the voters, said Linda Hutchings, a candidate.

“We all worked getting the signatures we needed,” she said.

If Soldotna went from a first-class general rule city to a home-rule city, it would have more autonomy and powers, such as the ability to set its own sales tax rates. A major reason for bringing this question before Soldotna voters again was the vote during the last general election that prohibited the city from collecting year-round sales tax on non-prepared food items. Soldotna was projected to lose $1.2 million in revenue, and its first quarter payments came in $488,000 less, said City Manager Mark Dixon at a budget work session for the city Tuesday night.

Voters rejected forming a charter commission when it came up last year.

If the seven-member charter commission is approved, it will look to other city charters like those of Kenai and Seward, the candidates said.

“You look at how many cities are home rule already in the state of Alaska, you have access to all of those home-rule charters,” Hutchings said. “There’s a lot of accessibility to the information that we’re going to need.”

Hutchings said things like the research that would have to go into forming a charter and the meetings the commission would have to hold wouldn’t cost anything more than other municipal meetings, like city council.

No one in attendance spoke up as being opposed to home rule for Soldotna. Overall, Hutchings and said she has not heard from many people inside the city limits who are not in favor of the change. In a previous Clarion interview, Soldotna City Council members Linda Murphy and Tim Cashman also said the majority of opposition to home rule they have heard so far has been from residents living outside Soldotna.

Those who are opposed seem to be so because they would not like the year-round sales tax on non-prepared food items to be reinstated, the candidates said.

Kenai City Manager Rick Koch spoke at the luncheon to give perspective from a home-rule city. He said while he understands the sales tax issue has been the main catalyst in bringing home rule back before Soldotna voters, there are many other ways in which cities can take advantage of it.

“Why would you not want to make the decisions as close to the people that are served by the government as possible?” Koch asked. “It’s not just about sales tax, it’s about being able to strike your own direction as a community.”

Murphy brought up the structure of the city council as something else that could be changed under home rule, citing the fact that, currently, Soldotna Mayor Pete Sprague has veto power but is not a voting member of the council.

The candidates and others in attendance spoke of Soldotna having more control over its economic future.

“We have a wonderful library and fire and water, sewer treatment plant, they take care of our roads,” said candidate Penny Vadla. “And I think as a community we should take a look at our interests because we serve so many people outside the city of Soldotna. They come and they enjoy what we have here, as we do with cities that we go to where we pay their sales tax — and not all the cities have that, I realize that — but I think it’s important to know that if we want services that we have to pay for them.”

Voting on whether to create the charter commission will take place from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Soldotna City Hall on Tuesday.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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