1. If voters approve a new city charter, would you re-instate a year-round sales tax on groceries?
Tim Cashman, Seat D: I am only one of six Council members that would be using the input from our local residents to make that decision.
I believe the year round sales tax on all goods and services is in the best interest of the residents of Soldotna. The services provided to Soldotna residents and the outlying communities that also use them have always been funded through a low sales tax. The loss of sales tax on groceries will greatly increase the property taxes directly onto Soldotna residents and businesses. Soldotna residents should not be forced to pay excessively high property taxes by non-residents to provide and maintain the roads, parks, Police, library, and other public services enjoyed by all. It is far more equitable for a large group of users to pay a small tax than a small of group users to pay a large of tax for the services provided to all.
Tyson Cox, Seat B: I would vote yes to re-instate a year-round 3% sales tax on unprepared food because Soldotna residents should not have to bear the full tax burden of city amenities enjoyed by all area residents. If we do not re-instate the 3% sales tax on unprepared food, we will most likely have to increase the property tax mill rate for Soldotna residents.
Lisa Parker, Seat E: I believe the City of Soldotna should adopt the Home Rule Charter so the residents of the City can determine their future. If adopted, then we can address the question of a year round sales tax on groceries. In general I am not opposed to sales tax. But, the devil is in the detail.
2. What, if anything, would you change in the city’s budget?
Cashman: I would like to better inform the residents of what our local government spends money on and the benefits of those expenditures to the community. I sought a council seat to help find cuts and savings. Although not perfect, the City of Soldotna does appear to be very efficient while providing a high level of services at a low cost to the residents. During the past budget cycle I looked through millions of dollars of expenses and tried to find cuts and efficiencies. I found a few things that could be deferred or eliminated but the really big ticket items such as roads, infrastructure, and maintenance costs are are difficult to eliminate so they must to be prioritized.
I would encourage residents to pay attention to the expenses and speak up when they see something they don’t want or don’t agree with.
Cox: I would not change anything in the city’s budget at this time. It is not as easy as just looking at the budget and making changes. There are a lot of variables to consider. There are new capital projects and maintenance issues that must be dealt with when they come about. I believe we should watch our city’s budget closely as city residents need to be continually reassured that their tax dollars are being spent wisely.
Parker: At this time I don’t have any specifies. In 2017, after being presented with next year’s budget, there may be areas I might want to change.
3. Should the city continue to look into annexation? Under what conditions would you support annexation?
Cashman: Annexation should be studied cautiously and with a great deal of respect to those it could affect, both inside and outside the current and proposed boundaries.
As a Soldotna resident myself I can confidently say the following: I live on a dirt road that’s plowed when it snows, sanded when it’s slick, graded when its bumpy, and we have dust control in the summer. The police would come quickly if I need them while my property taxes are lower and my level of service is higher than many who live outside of town. The City does not bother me and if I have a problem with something at City Hall I can approach the entire City Council for a remedy. For me, it’s awesome to live in Soldotna but obviously not everyone in the annexation study area would agree.
Cox: Yes, the city should continue to look into annexation. This is a topic that should be revisited every couple of years. I would be willing to support annexation if it makes financial sense, and if a majority of the people in the subject area agree that it is the right move.
Parker: I will only support annexation in those areas where a majority of the property owners in the area support the annexation. This is consistent with my position when I ran for Soldotna City Council in 2005. If there are areas outside the City that would like access to City water and sewer then prior to any design, engineering, installation or expenditure of funds the area would have to become part of the City of Soldotna.
4. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Soldotna in the next three years?
Cashman: The first challenge will be the approval of a Municipal Charter. The passage is critical for Soldotna’s residents if we are going to maintain low property taxes and a high level of services.
The second challenge is dealing with declining revenues in a declining state economy. Fewer dollars spent locally will result in lower sales tax collection and could result in fewer opportunities for residents. We must do all we can to keep Soldotna a vibrant community and use our diverse economy to weather any changes. We need to keep our property taxes low to attract people and businesses to our town.
The third challenge is everything else. Capital projects, budgeting, annexation studies, marijuana regulations, and the list goes on and on.
Cox: Money. Like most communities in Alaska and the U.S., we too need to tighten our belt a bit. This provides for an excellent opportunity to ask our city residents to come take a look at city spending so that we can, as a community, decide what amenities and services we want to support and fund.
Parker: Economy. Alaska is facing a fiscal crisis — declining revenues, declining oil production, minimal diversification. With additional cuts being made to State budgets, the services being provided and requested by the public will fall upon local governments. At the time the cuts are made to essential services impacting residents then we will have to decide how to proceed.
5. How can voters contact you?
Cashman: The best way to reach me would be through my City of Soldotna email account at email@example.com I also encourage residents to attend Council meetings and get involved. I’m more than happy to stay late if people have concerns, questions, or suggestions. I’m also happy to meet with residents most anytime.
Cox: Voters are welcome to contact me, Tyson Cox, at 907-252-4814 with any questions or comments they might have.
Parker: By phone or email: 907-398-1883 or firstname.lastname@example.org.