Keith Baxter is running for Soldotna City Council Seat F and Tyson Cox is running for Seat B.
1. Should the city continue to look into annexation? Under what conditions would you support annexation?
Keith Baxter, Seat F: Yes. No matter the final decision, the process needs to run its course. There has been passionate interest from people across the Kenai Peninsula on this topic, but I will continue to give priority to the feedback of Soldotna residents, and the residents of the study areas, over people from other parts of the borough.
If the administration does bring forward a proposal to submit a petition, the public feedback we receive will be paramount in determining my vote. This isn’t a decision I plan to make in a metaphorical vacuum, or echo chamber.
It is difficult for me to say how I would vote on an undefined, hypothetical proposal. A proposal including properties that currently receive city services, and have agreed in advance to be annexed – that would be an easy yes. A proposal that triples our size or population – that would be an easy no.
Tyson Cox, Seat B: Yes, the city should continue to look into annexation. This is a topic that should be revisited every few years. I would be willing to support annexation if it makes financial sense for the City and positively affects the people and businesses within the subject area. We need as much community participation as possible so that we can understand the positive and negative components before making any decisions. Annexing any parcels into the City will not be a cut and dried task.
2. What, if anything, would you change in the city’s budget?
Baxter: Our City Manager, Mark Dixson, does a good job working with the department heads to put together a responsible budget; but I recognize that there is a perpetual desire on the part of constituents to keep spending as low as possible.
As the council is pressured to keep costs down, we communicate that message during budget work sessions, and I expect that kind of dialogue to continue. At the end of the day, there is a certain amount of trust involved with the City Manager that you have hired. If you don’t like what they propose, you can always make an amendment.
Overall, Soldotna does a good job providing cost-effective services. Moving forward, it is my hope that as the tourism industry in the area continues to grow, so will sales tax revenue. I regularly boast about our 0.5 city mill rate, and I’d like to keep it that way.
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 because city residents need to be continually reassured that their tax dollars are being spent wisely.
3. Describe your vision for future development in Soldotna.
Baxter: Soldotna already has so much going for it. It sits at the crossroads between some of the most beautiful places on earth, and astride a river that is second to none. As the seat of the borough, the home of the Kenai Peninsula College, and the home of the Central Peninsula Hospital, I have long felt that Soldotna is developing a vibe akin to the U-MED District in Anchorage.
When it comes to future development, that will be determined more by our business community than our council or the folks at City Hall. Of course, everyone has their part in shaping the future of the area, but the developers and entrepreneurs really do the heavy lifting when it comes to future development.
If I had a magic wand, there are some underused properties inside city limits that I would like to see revitalized.
Cox: My vision for future development in Soldotna consists of three parts. First, we need to continue to support our locally owned businesses as they are the backbone of our local economy. Second, we need to strongly promote Soldotna as a wise and profitable place to establish new businesses to stimulate our economy. Third, we need to create an environment that encourages economic growth and expansion.
4. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing Soldotna in the next three years?
Baxter: Soldotna faces many of the same challenges that are drawing concern in communities across Alaska. Namely, the State of Alaska’s fiscal situation, and growing economic uncertainty related to declines in the oil industry.
As the State of Alaska continues to shift costs and responsibilities downstream to boroughs and municipalities, we will have to keep a close eye on the ability of our sales tax revenue to cover our obligations.
One challenge somewhat unique to Soldotna, is the potential liability involved in bringing our wastewater treatment processes into compliance with mixing zone regulation changes. The city continues to work with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to renew its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit, which expired in 2005. It is important that this project be concluded soon, no matter the cost.
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.