Soldotna hires consultants to open annexation conversation

The city of Soldotna is continuing its research into the annexation of nearby areas currently outside of city boundaries by creating a forum for public engagement.

The city hired The Athena Group, a consulting agency based in Olympia, Washington, to design and facilitate a process that “will allow everyone to be heard and to hear each other,” according a release from the city.

In December, the Soldotna City Council approved an ordinance to appropriate $50,000 to spend on gathering public input on the hotly contested issue, which, for years, has continued to appear on the agenda and ignite debate.

“Our role in the project is really to design and facilitate a process for the community to have an open and honest conversation about annexation,” Meagan Picard of The Athena Group said. “What it means to them individually and what it means to the community at large.”

There will be three ways for the community to participate in the dialogue. Starting Sept. 1, and running through Oct. 30, an online discussion forum will open to the public at https://soldotna.consider.it.

“We’re going to start with a series of questions about the various changes that would happen if these areas were to be annexed,” Picard said. “We’ll be gauging what’s important and what really matters most to community members regarding each of those potential changes.”

Starting on Sept. 27, The Athena Group will organize a series of in-person conversations and open houes to address specific issues and concerns.

“If they are concerned about what will happen with law enforcement, they can talk to representatives from the police department,” Picard said.

The kick-off presentation and full open house will take place Sept. 27 at 11 a.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. There will be two more open houses at the Joyce Carver Memorial Library on Oct. 2 and 3 from 11 .m. to 2 p.m.

“Then we will be talking in the evening with community members about the things that we’ve been hearing in the online forum that seems to be riding to the top in terms of caring about annexation,” Picard said.

There will be four evening meetings held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The first meeting will be on Sept. 27 at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The second will be held at the Gilman River Center on Sept. 28. The third and fourth evening discussions will be held on Oct. 2 and 3 at the Joyce Carver Memorial Library.

“We expect to be pulling from these, some kind of high level guidelines for decision making for the council and, possibly, even specific proposals that community members come up with,” Picard said. “We’ll take more detailed questions (from the open houses) and bring them into the last few weeks of the online forum to really dig in and really understand the community best.”

This is the second phase in Soldotna’s exploration of annexation. The city also completed a fiscal impact study last June, which evaluated the potential costs of delivering municipal services to each of the nine proposed geographic areas outside of the city identified as Funny River West, Skyview, K-Beach South, K-Beach Central, K-Beach North, Knight Drive, Kenai Spur, Sterling Highway and Funny River.

If, following the public engagement process, Soldotna decides to go through with annexation of one of the nine proposed neighborhoods, a petition would be sent to the Local Boundary Commision. The commission has the final say over the annexation of additional land and will hold its own public input process.

Reach Kat Sorensen at kat.sorensen@peninsulaclarion.com.

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