Soldotna special election set for May

Voters will decide whether to form a charter commission during a special election this May.

The Soldotna City Council approved a resolution with a 5-2 vote at its Wednesday meeting to set a special election for Tuesday, May 10. Voters will decide at the election whether to create a seven-member charter commission, which would have a year to draft a charter for the city, which would also go before voters for approval.

The vote came in the wake of a citizens’ initiative to readdress the issue that was approved on Feb. 1 after gathering the needed 103 signatures.

Soldotna residents rejected the formation of a charter commission during a special election in February 2015.

Council members Keith Baxter and Meggean Bos-Marquez voted against the resolution, citing a preference for placing the charter commission question in the general election held in October. Both said the additional cost of a special election factored into their opinions.

“Not that I’m against the home-rule effort, I would just rather see it on the general election in the fall when we could take advantage of the voter packet and have to expend less city funds potentially for a re-education effort,” Baxter said.

Baxter also voiced voter turnout as a concern and a reason he would prefer putting the charter commission issue in the general election. Bos-Marquez also pointed out that spending extra money to hold the election sooner might not make much of a different in the long term when it comes to establishing home rule.

“I just don’t think that five months is going to jumpstart it that much when it could take up to a year to even get the ball rolling,” she said.

If elected, the charter commission would have a year to form a charter for the city, which would be sent to voters for approval.

If voted down, the commission would have another year to draft a second charter. If that charter was also voted down, it was stop the process for the time being.

Home-rule status would allow Soldotna to determine its own tax rates and a variety of other issues.

When the council approved its consent agenda, it introduced an ordinance that seeks to allocate $3,400 of city funds to help pay for the special election.

The election itself is estimated to cost $5,900 between paying election employees, advertising and ballot printing, according to a memo to the council from City Clerk Shellie Saner.

There is $2,500 left over from last year’s special election, so the ordinance is seeking the $3,400 to supplement it, according to the memo.

Those in support of a special election, including primary initiative sponsor Linda Hutchings, have said holding it sooner will ensure the issue is fresh in people’s minds after the last general election.

Hutchings also said in a previous Clarion interview that holding a special election on an issue related only to Soldotna will bode better for the outcome than putting the issue in a general election.

“(Voter turnout) depends on what’s on that general election,” Hutchings said. “The better turnout happened to be something that had to do with the whole borough voting and so everybody got involved with it, whereas if you have something that’s just for the City of Soldotna, I feel like it will have a better chance.”

Before the resolution passed, council member Linda Murphy proposed an amendment to change the election date from Monday, May 9 to Tuesday, May 10, which was approved by a council vote.

“People are used to going to the polls on Tuesday, and I’m afraid that this would be confusing for the general public,” Murphy said before the vote on the amendment.

Saner said the change in election date will not affect the nomination petition filing period, which will be open from March 14-25.

Saner previously told the Clarion that if not enough charter commission members are nominated or placed on the ballot to be selected during the same election, the commission will not be formed.

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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