1. What do you see as the biggest issues facing Soldotna in the next five years?
Nels Anderson, Mayor: The most pressing issue is the implementation of home rule. Because of the recent supreme court ruling, removal of sales tax on food items would raise property taxes for Soldotna residents by 1-1/2 mils or more. No one wants to collect more taxes than are necessary, however, revenues are needed for basic services and to pay for the quality of life issues.
I hope the residents will pass the suggested change in public disclosure. No public official will be able to hide any conflict of interest. However, the suggested change will hopefully allow more people to apply for public service.
Pete Sprague, Seat F: I see three key issues facing Soldotna in the next five years. The first and most immediate is to begin the work of creating a charter for a possible change to become a home rule rather than first class municipality. (I of course believe that Soldotna is first class all the way, in a manner of speaking!). The second is to continue to work on quality of life issues, including the continued implementation to the comprehensive, trails and recreation, and safe walkways to schools plans. Finally, we do need to revisit the location of the wastewater treatment plant. The plant runs safely and efficiently, but I believe that there may come a day that relocation becomes necessary. We need to be prepared for that eventuality.
Paul Whitney, Seat A: Currently the most important issue facing the City of Soldotna is the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the sales tax referendum. The potential loss of revenue from that source would require approximately a 1.6 mill increase in property tax, a substantial cut in the budget or a combination of the two. The City is proceeding along the path of becoming a Home Rule City. This will take approximately one year to accomplish and if approved it will mean the citizens of Soldotna will have the destiny and future of their City in their hands.
2. Is the city doing a good job of balancing business development with community needs? Are there changes needed?
Anderson: Our city manager has been very good about trying to encourage business development and growth and to revise our codes to make them more business friendly. Our store front beautification plan has given us a start towards improving the aesthetics of the city but in that area with I believe we have a long way to go. I think the difficult thing to do is to look 50 years down the road and decide what changes need to be made now to improve the aesthetics and livability of the community for our children as well as encourage growth and development to provide opportunity for jobs and employment. Personally, I have been championing a markedly expanded trail system through the city and hopefully beyond.
Sprague: Yes, I believe that we are. Enhancing business development and meeting community needs are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The storefront improvement program and the administration’s sharpened focus on economic development illustrate that. The creation of the Soldotna Memorial Park and the improvements at Soldotna Creek Park have helped to improve our quality of life, which in return makes us a more attractive location for business development. The road upgrades, including the current work on Binkley St, while challenging at the moment, will help both the business climate and the community as Soldotna grows and matures.
Whitney: I believe the City is doing a good job in working with businesses in developing new opportunities for growth and economic development. The City needs to balance that growth and economic development with what is best for our community in the future. There needs to be a balance between new development and the views of the residents on what they want the City to look like in the future.
3. What, if anything, would you change in the city’s budget?
Anderson: A week ago I sat down with the auditors looking at our city’s budget and finance records and indicated I was very happy with our system. They have not been able to find any flaws in our accounting system or make any suggestions for improvement during the time I have been mayor. I think that speaks very well for our employees and city manager. When we go through the budget the city Council members dissect it very carefully and make suggestions if needed for changes. I have yet to see a Council member who is not fiscally conservative. One of my issues both as city Council member and mayor has been over the small amounts of money that we donate to causes like after prom parties, etc. These are generally small that is $250-$500. I however have concerns that we donate money to causes that are not approved by the voters that are not specifically related to city services regardless of the worthiness of the cause.
Sprague: At this point I wouldn’t change anything. As a council member, I had ample opportunity prior to passage of the Fiscal Year 2015 budget this past June to address concerns and make changes to the document. There will be plenty of time to track revenues and expenses as we approach the next budget cycle, and I will certainly be prepared to make changes as the public and council see necessary.
Whitney: The current budget is a good budget and provides the needed services, but still maintains a low property tax rate. If there was anything I would like to see changed would be more emphasis and resources put into road repair and maintenance plus planning for extension of paved roads into areas without.
4. What projects would you like to see on the city’s capital improvement list?
Anderson: The city Council is currently reviewing our projects list and I believe most members generally agree with the priorities that are listed. For me, expansion of the Sports Center is a major issue. We have been meeting with the appropriate public officials to gauge possible sources for funding. Most of our projects are designed to improve services for our residents such as water and roads.
Sprague: The council and the administration are currently working on the priorities for the upcoming legislative session, and will again address the five-year Capital Improvements Plan in the near future. I am satisfied with what has been presented by the administration, but prioritization still needs to be done. I do feel that it is imperative for the council to meet with our chamber of commerce board of directors to begin working on what needs to be a shared vision of improvement or relocation of the visitor’s center in conjunction with any convention center plans. Even more importantly, I would like to see more public involvement as we develop our priorities for the future.
Whitney: We currently have a good mix of projects on the list though I would like to see the road and utility projects move up.