This week, the city of Soldotna will hold a special election for mayor on December 17th. The election comes a little more than three months after the unexpected death of former mayor Dr. Nels Anderson. Two candidates are in the race, former mayor Pete Sprague and Charlene Tautfest. They took on a range of local economic questions at a forum this week sponsored by the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.
*Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported Pete Sprague's support for annexation of the Sport Lake area instead of Slikok Creek. We regret the error.
Sprague has lots of experience with local government, having also served on the borough assembly and city council, while Tautfest is the newcomer, hoping to provide a choice for voters. While they may not share much in the way of experience, that doesn’t mean there are wide gulfs between the candidates when it comes to things like taxes. Residents in Soldotna are subject to very little property tax. Some 96 percent of the city’s budget is funded by sales taxes, instead. That’s a ratio both candidates hope to maintain.
“I think we have the best taxation regime in the state of Alaska, if not the country,” Sprague said. “We have a very small property tax. Half a mill is negligible. But I don’t really see us lowering that. I don’t support that. And our sales tax at three percent, I think that is a small burden for folks within the city as well as outside the city.”
“Property taxes are low, sales tax is low. I’m not for any new taxes. I think we’re just fine the way we are,” Tautfest said.
On the broad question of economic development, there is some daylight between the candidates. A convention center has been talked about for some time, but funding has always been a prohibitive question. Tautfest says, if you build it, they will come.
“I would like a convention center here. I attend a lot of conferences. I attended one in Sitka last year and they had a fishing excursion and I thought that’d be great in Soldotna; a conference center to get those folks here and then they may want to come back and visit again.”
Sprague is a bit more hesitant based on the funding questions; essentially, how much the city should pony up versus how much of that cost should be covered by private investment.
“A convention center is a big ticket item, but I’m not quite sure how far we need to go in that direction. I know that the city and the Chamber have been exploring that. I’ve been wrestling with that for years myself and the city has as well. I think there’s a lot of opportunity. We need to keep getting the word out what Soldotna has to offer.”
He says there is still room for the city’s tourism industry to grow. And speaking of growing, annexation, of course, came up during the forum as well and was another point of difference between Sprague and Tautfest. Sprague supports annexing some of the proposed areas, including Funny River Road and along K-Beach Road to Slikok Creek.
“I certainly don’t want to second guess the city council on what they’ve done to this point. But at this point, the ball is in the hands of the Local Boundary Commission staff that is reviewing the petition, and they have to make a decision on the correctness of it...But I do support annexation.”
“From what I know about it, I would say no to annexation,” Tautfest said. “Too many people don’t want it and I don’t think the city needs the money. That’s what I think of annexation, you annex to get more revenue or taxes and I just don’t see it. I think the city is doing fine financially.”
A decision from the Local Boundary Commission on the city’s annexation petition is expected later this month.