Soldotna to seek public input on annexation

Some concerned Kenai Peninsula Borough residents got a head start weighing in on the city of Soldotna’s latest efforts to explore annexation of surrounding areas Wednesday night.

The Soldotna City Council introduced an ordinance at its Wednesday meeting on its consent agenda that would appropriate $100,000 from the general fund to the small capital projects fund “for the purpose of entering into a contract with a public engagement consultant” to gather community input on the idea of annexation, according to the ordinance text.

The city previously contracted with Northern Economics, an Anchorage consulting firm, to get an analysis of the fiscal impact annexation of certain areas around Soldotna would have. That report looked at nine areas around the city and was presented to the council in June. It is available on the city’s website. Now, the city would like to hear comments, questions and concerns about annexation from the public in regard to those areas.

“The consultant would assist in both designing and implementing a process to achieve broad public input not only in the areas being considered for annexation, but among City residents as well,” wrote City Planner John Czarnezki and Director of Economic Development and Planning Stephanie Queen in a memo to City Manager Mark Dixson about the ordinance.

Several borough residents attended the meeting and spoke against annexation, citing previous efforts by the city council to address annexation in the past. Alaska Berries owner Brian Olson said he feels the frustrations of the public in regard to annexation efforts have fallen on deaf ears. Another borough resident, Steve Wright, said previous mayors of Soldotna had assured borough residents that proposed annexation of an area would be put to a vote, and that he hasn’t heard a similar assurance from the current mayor and council.

“We should have the right to vote yes or no,” he said.

Vice Mayor Linda Murphy cautioned during her council comments at the end of the meeting against people getting too upset or worried at this stage, as the city council is looking to enter a phase of gathering public opinion before moving forward.

“Whatever the outcome, I will never, ever vote to annex a neighborhood if the people in the neighborhood do not want to be annexed,” she said. “(It) still might be annexed because I’m only one vote, but I have said that from the beginning and I think most of the council feels that way. Why would we want to annex a group of people when the majority of those people don’t want to be in the city? And I think that is why we want the public outreach, to see exactly how may people are out there objecting to annexation, and in fact it could be that your area isn’t even economically viable to bring into the city.”

Olson commented that spending $100,000 on the contract with a consultant would be a waste of money and encouraged input gathering and connecting with borough residents in a way that could be done for free. He said borough residents who are against annexation have been holding meetings for a year and a half and expressed frustration that city council members have not attended.

“Why can’t we get together at the (Soldotna Regional Sports Complex) once a month with these groups and do it neighbor to neighbor and say, ‘What are these issues?’” Olson said.

The ordinance will be up for public hearing at the Dec. 14 council meeting at Soldotna City Hall.

Megan Pacer can be reached at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

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