Home-rule, finances on Soldotna council docket for 2015

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Wednesday, January 7, 2015 10:47pm
  • News

The Soldotna City Council is headed into the 2015 year with financial uncertainties and pending legislative changes.

Council members agree their priorities and concentration will be directed to the potential adoption of a home-rule law charter, and how to accomplish operations with minimal funding from the state, which is facing a year of tight budgeting.

Council member Linda Murphy said it is a very real possibility Soldotna may not receive any supplemental resources for city projects and maintenance.

“The state may not have a capital budget this year,” Murphy said. “We will have to look at our wish list, look at what we can do and what we will have to defer.”

Mayor Nels Anderson said the city has remained functional under financial constraints in the past. Some projects may have to be put on hold, or other alternative revenue sources needs to be explored.

Despite uncertainties, he is confident the city can continue running efficiently, Anderson said.

Funding for summer construction has already been properly allocated, Anderson said.

“Beyond that it may be kind of gray what we can get done,” Anderson said.

While the council identified an expansion to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex as its top capital project for the fiscal year 2016, the project may not receive any immediate action, Murphy said.

Council member Keith Baxter said the council will likely continue to flesh out plans for the project, so when funds are available they can take action.

“Nothing has as much unified support as the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex expansion,” Baxter said.

The council is also in the middle of allocating funding and approving steps for long-term projects, Baxter said. The Airport Commission will be finishing up expansions and rehabilitation of Soldotna Municipal Airport aprons, and will present a new master plan to the council before the end of the year, he said.

Stephanie Queen, Director of the Economic Development and Planning, is heading an overhaul of existing Soldotna signage, Baxter said. The city’s freshly formed Planning Team, which includes city staff, business owners and representatives from local organizations such as the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce, is exploring ways to further beautify the downtown district, he said.

Baxter said while it is unlikely any policy will come before the council prior to the end of 2015, in the near future, the city will have to look at marijuana business regulations. He said he would advise waiting until state regulations are developed so that the city does not design anything redundant.

Baxter said the immediate future of home-rule is out of the council’s hands.

“That is somewhat in the rearview mirror for the city council,” Baxter said.

If voters approve the formation of a charter commission during Soldotna’s special city election on Feb. 3, the seven-member group will be working on developing a charter, Baxter said.

For now Baxter said he wants voters to understand that the special election is not to adopt a charter, but is a chance for the city to come up with a plan for home-rule.

“If the charter commission election fails in February then everything stops there,” said council member Paul Whitney. “We would have to reassess the tax base for generating revenue. A lot of what goes on in the next year will hinge on home-rule.”

Anderson said he is unsure of how the public will vote in February. If the Kenai Peninsula Borough chooses to implement a borough-wide reduction in taxes the council may have to look at raising property tax he said.

“That is not somewhere I want to go,” Murphy said.

While the council members have varying backgrounds and political philosophies, the group agrees on upcoming priorities, Anderson said. In addition to major legislative changes and financial challenges, the council is unified in their goal to beautify and maintain efficiency, he said.

 

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulclarion.com.

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