Soldotna mulls home rule question as Feb. vote looms

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Wednesday, November 5, 2014 10:11pm
  • News

In four months, Soldotna residents will decide how much autonomy they want for their city.

A special election is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2015, for eligible voters to choose if they want a charter drafted for a home-rule government. Approval would mean Soldotna would have the maximum authority allowed for an Alaska municipality.

Council members Pete Sprague and Linda Murphy said moving to home-rule would give the city the chance to adopt and exercise policy specific to Soldotna’s community.

Soldotna is currently a first-class general law city, whose powers are limited by state and borough law, according to the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

In Alaska, the unorganized and organized boroughs govern home-rule, first-class general law and second-class general law cities, according to the Alaska Department of Commerce.

Of the six cities on the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Seward and Kenai are home rule law, according to the Department of Commerce. Seldovia and Homer are first-class general law cities, while Kachemak is the only second-class city, according to the Department of Commerce.

Homer voted down the option of becoming a home-rule city in this year’s Regular Election on Oct. 7.

Moving to home-rule would gives the municipality more control over setting tax mill rates and the ability to exercise all legislative powers not prohibited by existing law or charter. According to the Department of Commerce, the election and term of the city council and mayor would be determined by a charter and no longer by state regulations.

Right now the state has rigid regulations on first-class city councils when it comes to making regulatory exceptions, said Soldotna Mayor Nels Anderson.

If adopted, Soldotna’s charter may also define the veto powers of the mayor, according to the Department of Commerce.

Anderson said he has not needed to veto a decision by the city council since being elected until recently. At the Nov. 5 city council meeting, Anderson told the council he would overturn any unscheduled approvals for small grant money, unless they created a policy that would be applied to all future requests.

City manager Mark Dixson said a catalyst for the interest in home-rule came from the recent Supreme Court decision in Price v. Kenai Peninsula Borough et al., which could lead to a repeal by voter approval of the Kenai Peninsula Borough food-tax that allows Soldotna to collect a year-round tax on non-prepared food items.

If the tax is repealed, the city would need to find another way to make $1.2 million in annual revenue, and it would likely have to happen through increased property taxes, Dixson said. Soldotna needs to be in control of its finances, instead of leaving them subject to the whim of the borough, he said.
The city has already adopted policy facilitating the move to home-rule.

The council allocated $5,000 of leftover funds from the 2014 Regular Election toward the expenses of the Feb. 3, 2015 special election. It is estimated the special election will cost $9,500.

During the special election, residents will determine which seven nominated candidates would develop the new charter.

At the at the Nov. 12 council city meeting, the council will vote whether or not to approve the question as it will appear on the special election ballot.

If the question is approved, qualified voters shall elect seven Charter Commission Members from nominated candidates, according to the ordinance.

An eligible charter commission candidate must have been a qualified Soldotna voter for one year preceding the special election, according to the ordinance.

The candidate must have received 50 votes on a nomination petition. The filing period begins 9 a.m. on Dec. 8 and ends 4:30 p.m. on Dec.19.

If at least seven nominations for qualified charter commission candidates are not filed the election on the question may not be held, according to the ordinance.

The ordinance approving the special election ballot question will be open for public comment at 6 p.m., Nov. 12 at Soldotna City Hall.

 

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com

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