Soldotna will be a home-rule city under its own charter as soon as Tuesday’s municipal election is certified.
Proposition 2 in the City of Soldotna, which asked voters to approve a home-rule charter formed by a seven-member commission, passed with 354 yes votes to 197 no votes, according to unofficial election results posted on the city’s website Tuesday night.
A citizen’s initiative requesting a charter commission be elected came forward in 2015 and was approved in February. Soldotna residents voted to elect the commission members to work on a charter in a May 10 special election. The commission met every week after it formed while putting together the home-rule charter, which gives greater autonomy to Soldotna and elevates the city from its previous first-class city status.
“I’m thrilled,” said Soldotna Charter Commission member Tim Cashman. “I think that Soldotna residents absolutely made the best decision for them.”
Cashman is also one of four Soldotna City Council candidates running uncontested. He and Regina Daniels are current members who are switching seats — Cashman will serve a three-year term and Daniels will serve for another year. Lisa Parker is making a return to the council for three years after having served from 2002-07. Newcomer Tyson Cox, who will serve in a one-year seat, got the most votes out of the four candidates, with 434 yes votes and 23 write ins, the least out of the four candidates.
As a first-class city, Soldotna had to follow the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s lead on certain things, like when a borough-wide vote during last October’s election repealed an ordinance that had allowed Soldotna to collect a sales tax on nonprepared food items year-round. Now that Soldotna is a home-rule community, it has the option to ask its residents to vote on whether to reinstate the year-round sales tax.
Soldotna City Manager Mark Dixson cited a loss of revenue from the lack of the year-round sales tax when the city council was working on the budget this year, and the administration recommended raising the city’s mill rate to 2.0, although that did not pass in the final budget in June. At the time, Dixson said that even quadrupling the mill rate wouldn’t get Soldotna completely out of the hole created in part by the loss of year-round sales tax revenue on nonprepared foods and by the loss of state funding.
While the possibility of bringing the year-round sales tax back is what motivated the citizen’s initiative this time around, members of the charter commission have said home rule will generally give Soldotna more local control down the line.
“I’m just excited that we have been able to accomplish this, and now it is up to the city council how they want to implement it,” said Soldotna Charter Commission Vice Chair Linda Hutchings.
Penny Vadla, another member of the charter commission, said she, too, is glad the home-rule charter passed because it will allow the city to go its own way in the future in order to maintain the type of services the residents want.
“That was the voice of the people in the City of Soldotna the last time we voted,” she said of the election. “What this does is it allows us to manage and maintain the amenities that we have here for the people of the city and the people who come to visit the city.”
She and Hutchings said a lot of ground work and education efforts went into the citizen’s initiative this time around. They said commission members did everything from hold town hall meetings and call up their neighbors to go door-to-door and talk to people in local coffee shops.
“We just tried to be available for what anybody wanted to talk about, and it seems to have worked,” Hutchings said.
While several residents outside Soldotna City Hall said they voted against the charter proposition, those out at the polls Tuesday who were in favor of home-rule won out.
“I think it’s probably the right thing to do,” said resident Linda White.
Harry Hagelund said he voted in favor of the home-rule charter so that Soldotna can continue on a positive track.
“The reason is because I just like a lot of what Soldotna’s been doing,” he said. “… As opposed to some of the other municipalities around here I think Soldotna’s really got it on the right track.”
At Soldotna City Hall, election volunteers said there was a steady stream of voters punctuated with large rushes of people, which was a bit more than expected. Just more than 630 ballots had been counted at city hall by around 2:30 p.m., though volunteers said that since some people were taking just the city or borough ballot and others both, there wasn’t a way to say for sure how many people had come out to vote.