During the Soldotna City Council’s discussion on whether to introduce an ordinance that would provide a donation from the city to a non-profit organization to partially fund the purchase of Birch Ridge Golf Course, one council member questioned the degree to which the city should feel obligated to fund such endeavors.
In the context of making a large donation to a non-city entity to acquire property, it’s a fair question. The council declined to introduce the measure, but had it done so, there certainly were a number of other questions that would have needed a thorough vetting before an informed decision could have been reached.
That said, there is a bigger discussion to be had about the role of government, particularly local government, in our day-to-day lives.
Most of the time, when we think of government, we think of taxes, budgets and regulations. We frequently hear calls for less government at all levels, and rants about overreach and intrusion into our personal lives.
What those arguments tend to overlook is that, while it is government that sends out the tax bill or requires a permit, it is also government that provides for much of what could be termed quality-of-life infrastructure that we expect in our communities.
For example, while the city of Soldotna has opted not to purchase the golf course on several occasions in recent years, it does own several city parks and playgrounds, baseball and softball fields, campgrounds, trails, river access and fishing structures, and an ice arena. Kenai has a similar list of recreational infrastructure, including a rec center and a golf course; in Nikiski, the pool and rec center are funded through property taxes. Some facilities are directly maintained and operated by city departments; others are leased or contracted.
While not every resident utilizes every park or fish walk or racquetball court, there is enough interest to argue in favor of maintaining the wide range of public recreational opportunities. It’s part of what makes this area attractive to live and work in.
Again, this isn’t to say that Soldotna should or should not acquire a golf course, or fund another entity’s purchase of a golf course.
It is to say that when we talk about the role that local government plays, it’s important to remember that there’s much more to the conversation.