On Wednesday, the Soldotna City Council will take up a resolution calling for a special election to establish a charter commission.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the city held a special election just a year ago asking Soldotna voters the same question.
At the heart of the question is just how much authority the city’s government should have, particularly when it comes to tax policy. As a general law city, Soldotna must follow the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s lead when it comes to taxes. A measure passed last fall repealed the authority granted by the borough for general law cities to collect sales tax on groceries during the winter months, when a seasonal exemption on the borough’s sales tax on groceries is in place.
Should Soldotna opt to become a home rule city, Soldotna residents would have greater control over local tax policy as the city council would approve taxes and exemptions.
The first step toward home rule, however, is establishing a charter commission, something Soldotna voters rejected 335-195 last February.
The current push for a charter commission was brought to the city by voter initiative, which was filed Jan. 26 and approved by the city clerk on Feb. 1.
While it is the council’s role to call for a special election, it’s important to note that the request is coming from Soldotna residents, not the council or administration. The council’s option is to OK a special election or send the measure to the fall municipal ballot; either way, voters will have the final say.
Last year’s attempt at a charter commission never seemed to get the buy-in from Soldotna residents needed for it to succeed; viewed through the lens of the current state and national political climate, many interpreted the push as more of government thinking it knows what’s best.
What that sentiment overlooks is that at the local level, government is still very much of, by and for the people. A charter commission gives the people the opportunity to ensure that the city government continues to operate in the best interest of city residents.
We’ll be curious — as will many other borough residents, no doubt — to see if Soldotna voters have had a change of heart since last year as to whether city government is still functioning in residents’ best interest, or if changes may make it better.