Engagement in annexation study low

Engagement is low according to the group tasked with collecting public input on the ongoing Soldotna annexation debate.

The Athena Group released an interim report summarizing the public engagement process as of Oct. 6 which highlights a lack of participation in the formal community engagement activities held by the group. The Olympia, Washington consulting agency was hired by the city of Soldotna to create a forum for the public to discuss the highly contested issue. The forum is ongoing until Oct. 30.

Can Soldotna boundaries change and still respect what matters most?

That’s the question that the Athena Group was tasked with answering over the course of two months. The discussion kicked off with the launch of an online community feedback forum on Sept. 1, found found on Soldotna.Consider.It. The consulting agency also held open houses, community conversations and chamber presentations.

Only 97 individuals have participated in one of more of the activities as of Oct. 6, and most of those participants did so through the online forum.

The largest group of unique participants have been those who live, own property or own a business in one of the nine study areas which include Funny River West, Skyview, K-Beach South, K-Beach Central, K-Beach North, Knight Drive, Kenai Spur, Sterling Highway and Funny River East.

“These are the people who would be most impacted by an expansion of city boundaries,” the report states.

Despite the low engagement, though, the agency has teased a key message from the participation so far — most participants are opposed to annexation or would only support it under certain circumstances.

Participants have been vocal about their concerns.

“Affected residents, property owners and business owners said they should get value for increased responsibilities,” the report says. “… Participants said the city should focus on existing services — particularly water and sewer — within current city boundaries before expanding.”

The report also found that their is a lot of distrust of the city’s motives and “greed.”

Participants did say they were willing to collaborate with the city on broader planning efforts, as long as they weren’t focused on annexation.

The Athena Group is hoping to engage 30 percent of the population, but according to the report they are unlikely to reach that target. They speculate that the low engagement is due to a combination of factors including fatigue with or resistance to further discussing annexation, sense among city residents and businesses that annexation won’t significantly impact them and reluctance to get involved in controversy among those who do not hold strong opinions on the topic.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com

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