Soldotna voters reject home rule

Soldotna voters ended the possibility of the city becoming home rule in the near future.

During Tuesday’s special election, voters chose not to form a seven-member charter commission that would have drafted the parameters of how Soldotna would govern itself under home rule status.

The question on the ballot read, “Shall a Charter Commission be elected to prepare a proposed charter?” Unofficial results show “No” votes at 298 while “Yes” votes came in at 170.

The seven commissioner candidates on the ballot were Jerry Farrington, Keith Baxter, Dale Bagley, Peggy Mullen, Pete Sprague, Patrick Cowan and Dan Nelson.

Had they been elected, the commissioners would have had one year to draft a home rule charter for the public to vote on. Being home rule would have given Soldotna greater autonomy, enabling the city to determine tax rates and a variety of other issues.

According to Bagley, the push for home rule was a result of the city’s grocery tax possibly being repealed later this year. Because Soldotna will remain a first class city, there is the possibility of a proposition passing on October’s ballot that would eliminate a tax on non-prepared food items.

City council member Keith Baxter said that without the tax on non-prepared foods, the city could lose between $785,000 to $1.2 million in tax revenue. Baxter said without home rule, the city council was prepared to discuss the possibility of raising property tax to make up for the lost revenue.

During election day, voters had varied opinions on Soldotna potentially becoming home rule and the special election.

Soldotna voter Randy Richeson said he was against special elections.

“I don’t like the idea of a special election,” Richeson said. “We just had an election not long ago. They could have presented the idea then, and they would have had more voters show up and we would have had a real election rather than just slide something through when nobody’s looking.”

“I believe the city needs the ability to self-govern and to set its own tax rates,” Cashman said.

Cashman said that having certain sales tax was important, because it allows the city to collect revenue from not only citizens, but visitors as well.

“I think it would be very harmful for 4,000 residents to pick up the cost of millions of people who pass through Soldotna annually.” Cashman said. “People come here and they pay sales tax and it benefits the facilities — our world class parks, the library — anything that’s here is for everybody to use. There’s no admission (fee). That’s offset by the sales tax.”

Other voters, like Eva Knutson, wanted to see a charter before deciding on the home rule issue. “I’d like to see the commission actually be formed to explore the idea of (home rule). Knutson said. “I don’t think there was a lot of information about home rule in general going into this election. We heard about it because of the “No” signs, and we had to research into it on our own.”

Ian Foley is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.