Soldotna narrows annexation options

The Soldotna City Council is refining controversial plans to expand the city limits as it prepares for a vote at its June 13 meeting whether to have staff draft an annexation petition for the Local Boundary Commission, the five-member state board that approves municipal boundary changes.

City officials have been working since 2014 on proposals to expand Soldotna’s sales and property tax base by incorporating neighboring commercial areas. At a May 23 work session to discuss a council resolution in support of going to the state with an annexation request, members reviewed each of the nine proposed annexation areas and considered removing two.

City Manager Stephanie Queen, who originally presented the resolution in a March 28 council work session, told council members at that meeting that although the Local Boundary Commission doesn’t require such a resolution, “we felt like it would be important to offer the council an opportunity to actually have a vote to signify your support or not.”

In October 2015, the city administration proposed nine possible areas to annex and began analyzing the financial impact of each one. At the May 23 work session, council members discussed removing from consideration two areas on Soldotna’s north boundary along Knight Drive — Area 6 (from Pioneer Drive west to the Kenai River Bank) and Area 7 (from Pioneer Drive east to Heath Street). A May 2016 analysis found both areas would give Soldotna more service-consuming residents than tax-generating businesses, costing the city more than it would gain.

City Council Member Tyson Cox disagreed with the removal, saying Area 6 is “of all the areas … uniquely and very distinctly Soldotna.”

“I understand it has a negative fiscal impact, I understand there are issues with building codes and all those sorts of things, but this is 100 percent part of our city,” he said. “I think we have to be very careful about making decisions based on negative fiscal impact alone — it’s not all about dollars. If we’re saying the reasons for annexation are to make inclusive areas of our city that are actual parts of our city, to take out Area 6 seems incorrect.” Mayor Nels Anderson agreed.

Queen said she may offer an amended resolution at the June 13 meeting to remove Areas 6 and 7 from consideration, giving council members who disagree the opportunity to add them back in at the meeting.

The question of allowing residents to vote on annexation — though not a Local Boundary Commission requirement — came up several times throughout the work session. Queen said the city administration tried to exclude the densest residential areas from annexation — to avoid the added cost of providing services — but could hold votes in some areas, such as residential developments along Polar Street (included in Area 3), and along Ravenwood Street (embedded in the largely commercial Area 4).

“It’s the preference of most of us here that we try and get consensus of the people who are being included, and it’s impossible to get absolutely every person,” Anderson said. “But we’re trying to carve out the majority areas where there’s a substantial number of people.” 

Council Member Justin Ruffridge said a vote should include every resident who may be potentially annexed.

“I was concerned about the fact that we were making sort of a stance on ‘we want people to vote,’ but then there’s a subset of people who might get that opportunity and another subset that aren’t,” Ruffridge said. “It seems a little too much on the fence. I think we need to pick one way and stick with it, or another way and stick with that.”

If the administration does draft a petition for annexation, the council would have to vote its approval before it can be submitted to the Local Boundary Commission, which would take at least year to act on the request, Queen said at the March 23 meeting.

Reach Ben Boettger at bboettger@peninsulaclarion.com

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