Soldotna home-rule charter makes election ballot

Soldotna voters will decide whether they want to be part of a home-rule city during the upcoming October regular election.

The home-rule charter that Soldotna commission members have been working on for the last several weeks was approved and will appear on the election ballot. Members of the Soldotna Charter Commission approved the draft unanimously at their Thursday meeting, as well as the proposition summary and ballot language. Commission Chair Scott Davis was absent.

Thursday’s meeting included a public hearing and a chance for residents to weigh in on the draft charter before it went on the ballot. Only two people, neither of them living within Soldotna city limits, turned out to give feedback.

“It seems like there’s more rights taken away from the citizens, that there’s less control or less say people have,” said Joan Corr.

Commission members addressed her concerns, saying home-rule communities keep more decision-making power at the local level.

“As a general law community we often have to follow what the borough tells us to do, or we have to follow what the state tells to do, and the citizens in this town have no control over that as a general law community,” said commission member Linda Murphy. “With home rule, in many instances, we don’t have to follow what the borough says or what the state says. Local people can make those decisions, and that is why we wanted to come forward with a home-rule charter.”

Corr said that while she does not live within city limits, the issue of home rule is important to her because she shops and spends time in the city. Corr also expressed concern that, because she lives in one of the areas Soldotna is considering for annexation, a home-rule charter could potentially affect her in the future.

Commission members stressed that the home-rule charter vote and the city’s exploration of annexation are not related. Commission member Penny Vadla said she, too, had once been a borough resident living just outside Soldotna city limits, and said she’s gone over the draft in great detail along with the other members.

“I don’t find it limiting,” Vadla said. “The charter really reflects some of the things that are already in code that the city already has to reference whenever they make a change.”

The charter commission will hold at least one town hall before the October election for the public to come learn more about the draft charter before they vote on it. Soldotna City Clerk Shellie Saner said the first town hall meeting will be held sometime in early September to allow time for another one if the first meeting has a large turnout.

“If the voters ratify the charter, it then becomes organic law of the city of Soldotna,” Commission Vice Chair Linda Hutchings said at the start of the meeting. “If the voters reject the charter, the charter commission would then prepare another proposed charter to be submitted to the voters.”

A vote on a second home-rule charter would have to be held within a year of the first charter being shot down, Hutchings said.

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