Soldotna will likely be seeing some familiar faces filling the city council chambers.
The five incumbents running for re-election in the Oct. 7 election seek to wrap up projects from their previous terms such as the Binkley Street Improvements and will likely be overseeing the transformation of the city from general law into home rule.
Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson is rerunning alongside council members Paul Whitney, Meggean Bos, Linda Murphy and Pete Sprague.
Moving to home rule
Murphy said the city is ready to move to home rule. Once the election is over, the council will begin addressing what will likely a be a yearlong process of forming a charter commission to evaluate whether the switch is necessary and then creating a new charter that the city will operate under, if the voters approved the change in the 2015 municipal election, she said.
“We will be able to control our own destiny,” Murphy said. “We will have a lot more control over the day to day. Right now if we wanted to implement a bed tax, for instance, we would have to get permission from the (Kenai Peninsula) Borough.”
The move to home rule was immediately proposed once the Alaska Supreme Court decision in Price v. Kenai Peninsula Borough et al. reversed a summary judgment by the Kenai Superior Court, which could potentially result in Soldotna losing the ability to collect taxes year-round on non-prepared food items, Anderson said.
If the annual revenue from the food tax is lost, it may potentially force the city to raise property taxes by as much as 2 mills, Anderson said. In fact most Alaskan cities are home rule, he said.
“I am in favor of keeping taxes as low as possible,” Anderson said. “But you have to have enough money to pay for basic services.”
Bos said she still sees some loose ends left concerning the Binkley Street Improvements. She said she felt the city could have done a better job educating the public on how to use the new method of traffic regulation.
Anderson said he is unhappy with how long the project has taken to complete, but believes city engineer Kyle Kornelis’s reports that there were unexpected road blocks the construction crew had to handle. However, Anderson said the project wasn’t always the first priority of the construction team, when it should have been.
Once people slow down and drive through the intersections correctly, traffic flow will improve and intersection accidents will decrease, Anderson said. The intersections are also supposed to be safer for bikers and pedestrians, he said.
Murphy said she understands any setbacks the improvements teams encountered. Construction always takes longer than originally planned, she said.
An uncontested election
Sprague said he has mixed feelings about this year’s elections having only uncontested races.
“I think it is healthy for a system to have contested races,” Sprague said.
Anderson said he hopes that the lack of opposition represents that the public believes the council and mayor are doing a good job rather than total apathy toward the system.
Bos said she wished every single seat had been contested in this year’s election. She said she wants more people involved in local government and voters should have choices.
Bos said she had no hesitations about seeking re-election to her seat. She said in some ways she considered her last term as an introduction where she learned about government program establishment, the local funding process and city policy modification.
The council is a diverse group representing an equally diverse community, Bos said. She said she originally ran to help the younger portion of the populations have more of a voice in local government. She said she is looking forward to having the student seat as part of the council for the next year.
Anderson said while the council members have different opinions, everyone ultimately has the same goal, which is for the city to run efficiently, Anderson said.
Whitney said his position on the council is exactly where he wants to be on local politics. The decisions he makes for the city most closely affect himself, his friends and family.
“In a way that’s where the rubber meets the road is local government,” Whitney said. “It’s home.”