The Alaska Local Boundary Commission voted 3 to 2 to put the annexation of 2.63 square miles of land around Soldotna to a public vote.
The commission will reconvene Nov. 25 to draft and approve a written decision on the matter, which will finalize LBC’s role in the process. After LBC files that report, the Soldotna City Council will decide how to move forward with the process.
This is the first time the commission has converted a petition from legislative review to public action. In August, a commissioner motioned to leave the matter up to residents. The commission opened up a seven-day written comment period on the matter last week.
Jed Smith, the commission’s sole staff member, said he received nearly 40 comments with a range of perspectives. Fewer than half of those comments were from residents of the city and proposed annexation territory, he said.
At today’s meeting, the debate about who should make the decision on annexation became a matter of debating the commission’s role in the public process. Commission Chair Larry Wood said he thinks that by opting for a vote over the legislative review, the commission is shirking its responsibility.
“Commissioner Trotter, the reason I said it’s a case of first impression in the 60 years of commission history is because other commissions have not ignored their constitutional responsibility to make these hard decisions," he said. "We got at least two comments that I remember from what we’ve received from political leaders who say, ‘Well, defer to the people.’ Well that’s easy to say.”
Wood also said he thinks putting this to a vote will squash the annexation.
“Gentlemen, if you vote for this, you are killing this annexation request," he said. "There’s no doubt about it. Also, I think we’re on the cusp of getting a lecture by the superior court on doing our job.”
Lance Roberts, the commissioner who motioned for a public vote in August, disagreed about the commission’s role in the process.
“I was appointed to this position to use my knowledge and experience to make decisions based on what I see, and what I see in the evidence provided is that the amount of service that is going to be provided is not sufficient to do this annexation, OK, it looks like it’s more negative than positive," he said. "So if the voters approve it, then that means they told me ‘No, it is enough for us,’ and that’s their decision to make.”
The Nov. 25 written decision will be a compilation of comments from the five commissioners — essentially, a written version of the majority opinion. The two commissioners who voted “no” may draft a dissenting opinion on the matter, which will enter into the record but hold no sway over the ultimate decision.
The Soldotna City Council may or may not choose to hold a public vote on the matter. In such a vote, registered voters from both the city and the proposed annexed territory would have a chance to vote on annexation. For Soldotna’s annexation petition to go through, there would need to be a majority approval from each bloc.
It could also file a motion for LBC to reconsider its decision up to 18 days after Nov. 25.