Soldotna voters have at least four easy decisions to make during the Tuesday, Oct. 4 regular municipal election — candidates running for the open seats on the Soldotna City Council are all unopposed.
Two current council members will return, essentially switching seats with each other. Tim Cashman, who was appointed to the council in 2015, will continue on with a three-year term in seat D. Regina Daniels, who has served on the council since 2010, said she had been planning to move on, but decided it was important to continue work on a few major issues and will serve in seat F for one year.
Of the two newcomers, only one is truly new — Tyson Cox is the only candidate for whom the council will be a first, and he will fill seat B for one year. Lisa Parker served on the council from 2002-07, and will now fill seat E for a three-year term.
With a number of issues facing Soldotna, like Tuesday’s upcoming vote on the proposed charter that will decide if the city becomes a home-rule community, and the uncertain financial future of Alaska, the candidates are looking forward to addressing the needs of the city during their terms. All four said they hope residents get out and vote on Oct. 4, and all are in favor of Soldotna becoming a home-rule city.
While the home-rule citizens’ initiative this year was spurred by a motivation to be able to bring back Soldotna’s year-round grocery sales tax that was repealed during the last borough-wide October election, the candidates said the move will be beneficial because it will allow residents to be the ones to decide whether they want that or not.
“I support the residents and the voters of Soldotna being the ones being able to determine what they think the city and the city government should look like,” Parker said.
Home-rule communities allow city residents to choose their own path, rather than follow the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s lead, Daniels said.
During this past budget cycle, the Soldotna City Council voted to leave the city’s current mill rate at .5, but administrators and council members commented that leaving it the same might not be an option in the future without a way to make up for revenue the city lost having a seasonal sales tax.
“Without a year-round sales tax, our half mill rate is not sustainable,” Cashman said. “We’re deficit spending now.”
Cashman, who also serves on the Soldotna Charter Commission, said none of the communities the commission contacted when researching home rule said they would choose to revert back to a first-class community.
Cox said he favors home rule because it allows for more local control, whether residents decide they want a return of the year-round sales tax or not.
The candidates also had some ideas about how to approach the next upcoming budget cycle.
“I think that we’re going to have to keep an eye on what happens on a statewide level with the economy,” Daniels said. “It’s going to be the trickle down effect on our city and what funding we receive from the state.”
Cashman said prioritizing capital and infrastructure projects will be key to helping balance the budget, though he said he thinks the city does a good job of this already. For Cox, tackling the city’s budget will be a matter of evaluating what services and amenities city residents want to maintain, and finding a way to keep them, whether through sales or property taxes.
“I am very much a numbers person,” Cox said, explaining that the council will always have to be able to justify where the city’s money is going.
Soldotna’s council candidates also have some ideas for things they would like to see accomplished down the road, whether during their respective terms or not.
Parker said she has been hearing for several years from residents that they would like a biking and walking path from around Marydale Avenue, across the Kenai River and over to Kenai Peninsula College or the city’s ball fields. This would give people, especially children, better access to those fields, she said.
For Daniels, exploring expansion or updates to the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex is important. The Kenai Peninsula is the only region on the road system that doesn’t have indoor turf readily accessible, she said, and though a remodel would likely have to wait for steadier financial times, she thinks it’s worth looking into.
Cashman said he thinks making Soldotna a welcoming community, both in terms of attracting businesses and providing amenities and services for people to enjoy, is a goal to focus on.
“I think tourism is always important here,” he said.
Cox said he is always in support of further growth, whether that’s in the business sector, industry or otherwise, provided there are people in Soldotna interested in staying and backing up that growth.
Polls open at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4 at Soldotna City Hall.
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.