Q&A: Soldotna council candidates share views

  • Thursday, October 1, 2015 9:14pm
  • Opinion

1. Is there something in the city’s budget you would like to see changed?

Fred Sturman, Seat A: — More transparency to costs of departments and employees, including charts and graphs for the public.

— Limit city budget reserve — not to exceed one year operating expense.

— Less tax dollars spent on outside consultant studies, and more results from in-house employees and citizens of town.

Paul Whitney, Seat A: When the General Operating budget covering public safety, public works, parks & recreation etcetera was passed it was based on the revenue provided by property tax and sales tax, most of which was sales tax. With the distinct possibility Proposition 1 will pass, it will result in a reduction of approximately $1.0 to $1.2 million dollars in revenue and the General Operating budget will need to be changed accordingly. The City Council and administration will need to carefully review the expenditures and decide where cuts will be made and yet still maintain the level of service to the residents we currently enjoy. Changes will take place, not necessarily all at once, but over time. The City has a healthy fund balance which will be utilized to smooth the effects of a lower budget, but eventually those funds will be depleted and a need to raise additional revenue will occur.

Linda Murphy, Seat C: No. The current City Council estimates revenues on the conservative side and expenditures on the high side in order to avoid unpleasant surprises at year’s end. We have been careful stewards of the public’s tax dollars while providing the services our constituents need and want.

Dan Nelson, Seat C: There are no specific budget items that give me personal concern. I believe that the city does an excellent job at providing city services such as utilities, parks and recreation facilities, as well as street maintenance. The total budget numbers in the last few years do not show excessive increases. In general, I would encourage city departments to continue investigating ways to reduce operating costs by utilizing technology and other ways to create efficiencies in daily operations. Currently, I do not believe there is demand for any additional city services that are not already provided.

2. Should Soldotna continue to study annexation? Under what conditions would you approve of annexation?

Sturman: No to studies (wasteful spending).

— Approve if supermajority of area to be annexed desires to join city.

Whitney: Someone said to me recently they really wouldn’t want to be annexed, but they understand the need to look at it every 8-10 years because the dynamics of the area and community change. Currently a study is being conducted to evaluate the cost to the City of any annexation. If the cost to the City was more than the revenue generated in a particular area I don’t see any reason for annexation to occur.

There has been some interest voiced for annexation into the City and that will be discussed with those property owners. If an area was identified for possible annexation the City would work with the property owners to determine what their concerns are and what adjustments in regulations or ordinances would need to be achieved to alleviate those concerns. A vote of the property owners in that area would then be the final step before any annexation.

Murphy: Yes. We are currently conducting a cost/benefit analysis of those areas abutting our corporate boundaries to determine if it would be in the city’s interest to consider annexation. There are two questions we must ask before considering annexation of any neighborhood or commercial area. First, do the residents and/or land owners in the area want to be annexed? Second, would this proposed annexation benefit the city economically? Should the answer to either question be no, I would not vote to annex.

Nelson: I support the economic study that was approved in July with regards to annexation. It is an important issue for the city to look at as we continue to focus on economic development and long-term growth. I do not believe that the annexation process need be rushed in to or happen within any short length of time, as I would prefer a deliberate and careful process. My test for approval of annexation would be a proposal that is the work of a thorough public process that includes input from those in the proposed area, as well as city residents and other interested parties. The annexation would have to make economic sense and be in areas where city services can be easily provided.

3. Is there an issue that requires the city’s immediate attention?

Sturman: — Change planning and council meeting, workshop and open house times to later start times and Saturdays so the PUBLIC can attend.

— Prove to the citizens that a taxpayer funded convention center will not be a white elephant.

Whitney: I see two issues facing the City in the immediate future. The first is the loss of $1.0 – $1.2 million dollars of revenue with the repeal of the sales tax on prepared food items if passed. In the short term the residents of Soldotna will benefit from a small savings in sales tax, but the long term affect will be more costly. The City depends on one major source of income, sales tax, to fund the operation of the police, public works and other departments. With the loss of so much revenue, cuts will need to be made in those departments and a further reduction of the fund balance to ensure a smooth transition. Decisions will need to be made on how much, where to cut and how to replace the lost revenue in the future so we can still maintain a high level of service to the residents.

Murphy: Whether to allow the commercial sale of marijuana within the City is one issue that must be addressed prior to the date the state begins accepting applications for licenses. If we do nothing, the state will decide who can sell, grow or manufacture marijuana products within our boundaries and where these establishments can be located.

Nelson: One of the most pressing issues is the financial outlook of the city. Because of the state economic situation, the city can expect to receive significantly reduced funding for capital projects. Additionally, the passage of proposition one will likely decrease sales tax revenues to the city by at least one million dollars, according to estimates from the Kenai Peninsula Borough. As budget planning begins, the city will have to prioritize projects, look towards alternate funding to replace state funds, and contend with the possible reduction in sales tax revenue.

4. What approach should the city take to regulating marijuana?

Sturman: Wait until the state completes their regs, then follow state law, because it is state law.

Whitney: The second issue is whether to allow retail/commercial marijuana sales within the City. A number of work sessions have been devoted to what we can and can’t do on regulating marijuana. Regulations currently being formulated by the State will ultimately have an effect on what can be done by local government. The question is will commercial cultivation, manufacturing, testing and retail sales be permitted within the City. I believe the consensus currently is to not allow the first three and consider only allowing retail sales. An ordinance is being drafted on regulations for retail sales, i.e. location, number of establishments, hours, taxing/fees, and will be before the Council by the end of the year. The voters of Soldotna did not vote in favor of legalizing marijuana and I would very much like to hear from those people before making a decision on allowing commercial sales within the City.

Murphy: I would prefer to outlaw the sale of marijuana within the City at this time. Yes, it is lawful for adults to possess and consume marijuana within their homes, but why the rush to allow commercial sales in Soldotna? The City of Kenai is leaning towards allowing commercial sales within its boundaries. I believe it is prudent to wait and see how this works out in Kenai and other communities around the state. Initially, this will be a cash only business since banks are likely not to accept proceeds from the sale of what remains a Schedule 1 drug under federal law. Additionally, I do not believe the revenue we might receive from sales within the City will exceed the cost of regulation. Waiting a bit to see how this works out in other areas does not preclude our allowing sales at some time in the future.

Nelson: The city needs to draft comprehensive local regulations regarding the use of marijuana and the businesses that may open to support this industry. The regulations should be in harmony with our other codes and the comprehensive plan. This type of regulatory authority is very new to Soldotna and the other municipalities, and may require some revision as we proceed. By forming local regulations, the city can set policy and control the industry better than simply accepting the outcome of regulations written at the state level. Local municipalities have been given the authority to create their own local regulatory authority, and we need to take advantage of that in Soldotna.

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