Soldotna considers community COVID help

Apr 9, 2020

The city of Soldotna is contemplating ways to help its businesses and residents get through the financial upheaval of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

During a city council meeting Wednesday, council member Justin Ruffridge voiced concern about businesses in the city.

“Obviously, our economics are going to take a pretty big hit and it’s hard to predict what that’s going to be but our businesses probably have a tough road ahead, especially if tourism season doesn’t happen,” Ruffridge said.

City Manager Stephanie Queen says the administration is considering various ways the city can help ease the financial strain. One idea is to adjust water and sewer rates. The city already announced that water and sewer payments can be deferred and no interest will be charged until July. Queen said that measure was to buy the city time to decide what else it might do.

“So one of the things that I think might be appropriate for the city is looking at the water and sewer rates and whether some program relief makes sense,” Queen said. “The total impact of that, if you look at residential and commercial, is about $200,000 a month. So that would be the impact of the utility fund and that would be the amount of money that could be put back into the community, into people’s hands if we did something around rates.”

Another idea is to repurpose the city’s storefront improvement project. In the past, the city has offered funding for businesses to upgrade signage, paint exteriors and otherwise spruce up their look. 

“Maybe it’s marketed as a digital storefront impermanent program where those funds are really looked at pushing businesses’ online presence or their point of sale online opportunities to reach people when their doors are closed,” Queen said.

The city also kicked around reinventing the old idea of war bonds.

“Where the community would invest in their favorite local businesses or restaurants and buy at $75 bond today for $100 worth of goods sometime in the future,” said John Czarnezki, director of economic development and planning.

The city and Soldotna Chamber of Commerce have been communicating with businesses to see what help they would find useful. The bond idea didn’t get a great response. Many businesses already sell gift cards, which is a similar idea. But the city plans to keep the dialog open.

“We may continue to explore and experiment with different ideas, especially as this gap widens between when the economic hit started and when some cash starts to fly and starts getting in their pockets,” Czarnezki said.

The next Soldotna City Council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 22.