City of Soldotna

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The central Kenai Peninsula homeless population isn’t as visible as in Anchorage or other big cities, but it does exist. And the worst time of the year to not have housing is just around the corner.

Twyla Mundy, with the Alaska Coalition on Housing and Homelessness Continuum of Care Committee for the Kenai Peninsula, spoke to the Soldotna City Council at its meeting last week. She advocated for a cold-weather shelter to give people a place to go in the winter when temperatures pose a risk to health and safety.

It’s not a new idea. Love, INC, is coordinating the project. Working with churches in Nikiski, Kenai and Soldotna, they came close to having a shelter system up and running last year but snagged on the occupancy approval process. This year, COVID issues make church housing a nonstarter. 

Mundy says she can’t stand for a shelter not to be available again this winter.

“We have a plan but we got stopped because of all of the fire requirements and I understand that, but we never actually opened and my heart — I can’t walk by empty buildings this winter and know how many people are freezing in their cares. That can’t happen in the town I live,” Mundy said.

Overdue fines are being assessed into history at the Soldotna Public Library. The Soldotna City Council voted Wednesday to approve an action item allowing the library to waive fees as long as an item is returned.

Library director Rachel Nash said this is a trend sweeping libraries across the nation.

“Over the last couple decades, public libraries in America have really been moving toward going fine-free. It’s become more and more apparent that they do not serve the purpose that they were originally used for, which is to encourage people to return items on time. Rather, they’re actually discouraging people from returning items or coming back at all because they’re afraid of these fines,” Nash said.

City of Soldotna

The city of Soldotna — and areas that might become part of Soldotna — will have to wait a little longer to see if the state of Alaska Local Boundary Commission will approve the city’s petition to annex 2.63 square miles of surrounding territory.

The commission held meetings last week over Zoom conferencing, hearing the city’s presentation and public testimony for over four hours Tuesday, then debating the issue for just about another four hours Wednesday.  

After all that, the commission postponed its decision until legal issues could be further researched.

LBC staff found that Soldotna’s petition met the bar for annexation — that it would be in the best interest of the state in shifting services to the city, the proposed areas fit the character of current city boundaries and that the city would be able to offer services to the new areas.

City Manager Stephanie Queen said they’re looking to incorporate a modest amount of territory. If approved, she said Soldotna would grow to about 10 square miles and still only be about a third the size of an average Alaska city.

In the middle of a year with a hotly contested state legislature election, congressional election, and presidential election, it can be easy to forget about municipal elections. But the Kenai Peninsula has those this year, too, with some major seats up for grabs.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s municipal candidate filing period opened today and runs through noon on August 17. The borough mayor’s office and three assembly seats, including the ones from Kenai, Sterling/Funny River, and Homer are up for election. The Board of Education has four seats up for election, including those representing Nikiski, Soldotna, East Peninsula, and Central. All of those are three-year terms.

CDC

 Friday is the deadline for nonprofits and businesses to apply for CARES Act grant funding through the Kenai Peninsula Borough.

The borough has made $15 million available in the first round of funding for nonprofits and businesses outside city limits for pandemic-related relief, whether or not they have previously received relief. The catch is that only expenses that haven’t been covered by other relief are eligible, and the borough will require proof of how the funds were spent.

Last Friday, Kenai launched the second part of its relief program for small businesses, and this time, it includes commercial fishermen.

Applications for this round of coronavirus relief became available last Friday and don’t close until August 30. That’s in part because commercial fishermen are busy, well, fishing right now.

Shaylon Cochran/KDLL

Soldotna’s annual Progress Days event is going forward—sort of.

Progress Days usually involves a big parade, weekend market, and live music in Soldotna Creek Park on the fourth weekend of July to mark the founding of Soldotna and its ongoing progress. Big events are not really on the up and up right now, so the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce has released details of how it plans to mark the occasion in the time of coronavirus.

Elizabeth Earl / KDLL

He looks like a lot of other soldiers. Shouldering his pack and carrying his gun, he looks out across Soldotna Creek Park from a pedestal beneath the flags, eyes on the horizon. A crowd greets him with applause and cheers.

Iron Mike, a statue representing soldiers and veterans of the U.S. military, was unveiled in the park on the Fourth of July, the culmination of nearly five years of anticipation. The Soldotna VFW post asked the city for permission to put the statue in the park and began raising money for it in 2015, and on Saturday, veterans pulled the tarp off for the final time.

The cities of Kenai and Soldotna each have local trail improvement projects in the works for this year, but a change in state policy has thrown wrenches into them.

Kenai is planning to build a paved bike path between the junction of the Kenai Spur Highway and Bridge Access Road down to Beaver Loop Road. This would connect to the newly paved separate bike path along Beaver Loop, creating a completely separated bike path loop between Kenai and Beaver Loop. Soldotna is planning to pave paths in Soldotna Creek Park and expand a path along Homestead Lane toward Swiftwater Campground.

Soldotna Chamber of Commerce

The Soldotna City Council’s three hours of debate Wednesday raised every nuance imaginable regarding the liability, practicality and morality of allowing large events on city property this summer but did not produce a policy going forward.

The city is struggling to decide how best to protect public health in preventing the spread of COVID-19 while still allowing commerce and community in the city’s most popular park.

In past summers, Wednesday night concerts, community festivals — pretty much any time there was music, a beer garden, food trucks and vendor tents, thousands of people crowded into Soldotna Creek Park.

This year, the Centers for Disease Control recommends limiting large events to 250 people, with proper signage, social distancing, hand sanitizing and personal protective equipment. But limiting entry to Soldotna Creek Park, in the heart of downtown, is difficult, as the perimeter is about as defensible as Swiss cheese.

Parks Director Andrew Carmichael warned the council to expect whatever attendance cap they might set to be exceeded.

“How do you track 1,000 people or (what) do you say to the second 700 people that show up on Wednesday, because all they heard was the blurb that it was out — ‘Wednesday music is happening.’ That’s a guaranteed 2,000 people with weather like this — boom,” he said. “… We saw 80 percent capacity in our campgrounds over Memorial Day because Alaskans could get out.”

The city of Soldotna’s petition to annex 2.63 square miles along Funny River Road, Kalifornsky Beach Road, the Kenai Spur Highway and the Sterling Highway south of town cleared another hurdle. Local Boundary Commission staff released their preliminary report on Soldotna’s annexation petition May 18 and found the petition meets state standards for annexation.

Staff found that the petition reasonably argues that annexation would be in the best interest of the state, because it would shift services to the city. The proposed annexation areas compliment the profile and character of current city boundaries. And it provides evidence that the city would be able to expand services to the new areas in an effective and efficient manner.

Redoubt Reporter

Businesses that closed temporarily in March or April have been reopening at various paces for the past several weeks, while public facilities have been a little more hesitant. This week saw a few more facilities reopen to the public, but with some changes.

For example, the Kenai Peninsula Borough buildings reopened Monday during normal business hours, with the exception of the Office of Emergency Management, the Soldotna emergency dispatch center, and the fire and EMS buildings. Visitors are asked to wear cloth masks when they visit and to call ahead to expedite the business they have before they arrive.

City of Soldotna

Though most social events on the Kenai Peninsula have been upended this summer, one staple is still going forward: the Wednesday Markets in Soldotna Creek Park.

The markets feature local crafts, foods, and other goods spread out in stalls all around the park. The first one is scheduled to begin this Wednesday at 11 a.m. Annette Villa, who organizes the markets, said the stalls will be a little more spread out than in the past.

The city of Soldotna is working toward a more ecologically prepared future. The council passed two measures at its May 13 meeting meant to help plan for and mitigate impacts due to climate change.

The first is agreeing to participate in a climate action planning cohort with the University of Alaska and other partners. Dr. Micah Hahn, with the University of Alaska Anchorage, explained the program.

The plans involve looking at historic climate data and future climate models, identifying potential impacts of climate change and doing an inventory of a city’s greenhouse gas emissions. Then using that baseline data to develop and prioritize resilience strategies, looking for opportunities to become more energy efficient, coming up with a framework to monitor progress and updating the plan to make sure it stays relevant.

She’s been working to develop a plan with Anchorage for the last couple of years and realized the process could be shared with other cities.

The Soldotna City Council got an early look at the beginning of the fiscal year 2021 budget at its meeting Wednesday. City administration wanted to give the council a heads up on what they might see in terms of financial repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sales tax is a huge chunk of Soldotna’s revenue. City Manager Stephanie Queen says the city anticipates the biggest hit being in March and the current quarter, with things slowly recovering over the next fiscal year.

“We are anticipating a reduction of sales tax revenue in the current fiscal year of about $800,000, essentially about 10 percent of the year in total reduction. And then, for FY21, the budget we’re building, we’re anticipating essentially double that, so, a 21 percent reduction, which is equivalent to $1.7 million reduction,” Queen said.

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.

A project to pave gravel paths at Soldotna Creek Park and connect the trail system to Homestead Lane is still in limbo, due to a change in how the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities administers grant funding.

Adding asphalt to the gravel trails would make them ADA accessible, and constructing a new, paved path to the sidewalk on Homestead Lane would connect two trails systems.

At Wednesday's Soldotna City Council meeting, City Manager Stephanie Queen said the city got a notification in May that the city's grant application was approved. The city's budget was for right around $550,000, with Soldotna providing a 20 match of about $100,000. Design and prep work for the project has already been completed. But the grant money has not arrived.

"The grant agreement paperwork was supposed to be forthcoming," Queen said. "We've received nothing until last week with a letter I got from the DOT saying that the budget is not $550,000, it's $1.5 million, so our 20 percent match is now $300,000. And this, despite numerous attempts for us to get a handle on what's happening, what the progress is. These projects were supposed to be built last year. "

City of Soldotna

Soldotna Memorial Park will see an expansion this spring, after the city council voted unanimously Wednesday to appropriate $300,000 on a design and construction project.

The cemetery was constructed in 2011 and expanded in 2015. There's plenty of space for cremains burials and the columbarium for cremains is only half full. But city Manager Stephanie Queen reported that there are no more standard plots left in the veterans section and not many available in the public areas.

"The demand continues to be high. We're at a point where we're now ready, and I would say it's fairly critical that we move forward with this next stage of expansion," Queen said.

City of Soldotna

The state of Alaska Local Boundary Commission took care of some housekeeping items in a teleconference Wednesday, one pertaining to the city of Soldotna’s annexation petition.

The short meeting included waiving a requirement in code that adds an extra hurdle to submitting comments to the commission. Code requires anyone commenting via email or fax to follow up that comment with a written version of what they sent digitally, which must be mailed to the commission within 10 days. The commission regularly waives the requirement and did so for comments relating to Soldotna’s annexation petition, as well.

“And staff recognizes that this is rarely followed. And, so, we routinely suspend this regulation for all petitions. And so we’re just asking the commission to do that again today for the Soldotna annexation to make it easier for the public,” said Eileen Raese, staff member for the commission.

As it stands now, anyone wanting to comment on the city’s petition can email or fax their thoughts with no subsequent mail involved. Written comments are, of course, still accepted. The commission does still require that anyone submitting a comment to the state send a copy to the city.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

The Soldotna City Council at its meeting Wednesday will consider a resolution of support for Alaska House Bill 198, which would expand Alaska’s hate crimes statute to include sexual orientation or gender identity.

Currently, Alaska statutes allow the court system to increase the sentencing of defendants convicted of crimes that are found to be motivated by a victim’s race, sex, color, creed, physical or mental disability, ancestry or national origin. HB 198 would include sexual orientation and gender identity to that list.

Lucy's Market

As a customer, the hardest thing about ordering a beer or wine at a café is deciding which offering you’d like with your meal. For the business, though, at least in Alaska, getting to the point of being able to offer those beverages can be a long and time-consuming process.

Lucy’s Market on Homestead Lane in Soldotna is hoping to be able to serve wine and beer and is in the last couple of weeks of an attempt to be licensed to do so.

“Largely because we want to be able to offer classes — wine-pairing classes, have special dinner events,” said owner Kelsey Shields. “Basically, we want to be able to open up the door to do those kinds of things, and in order to do so, we have to have this license. As a bonus, on a daily basis, we would also be able to offer people a glass of wine or pint of beer with their food.”

Local Boundary Commission

The state’s Local Boundary Commission is accepting comments on the city of Soldotna’s petition to expand city boundaries by 2.61 square miles through annexation.

After a years-long process within the city, the council voted in September in favor of submitting an amended annexation petition. The final version removed two large areas along Kalifornsky Beach Road. It still includes two areas along Funny River Road, Tsalteshi Trails and Skyview Middle School along the Sterling Highway, a small stretch along the south side of K-Beach Road just past the trails, and an area north of town along the Kenai Spur Highway east toward Mackey Lake Road.

          After two years, former mayor Pete Sprague will be given back the gavel at Soldotna City Council meetings. He won the special election yesterday (12/17) to fill out the remainder of the late Dr. Nels Anderson's term.

   According to city of Soldotna unofficial results Sprague received 155 votes, or almost 70 percent of the total ballots cast. Candidate Charlene Tautfest received 66 votes for almost 30 percent of the vote. One write-in vote was cast.

City looks to manage cemetery growth

Dec 17, 2019

The city of Soldotna’s relatively new cemetery has always been popular since it opened less than a decade ago. In fact, some dearly departed actually transferred there from other cemeteries.
    On Thursday night, the Soldotna City Council heard a report from the city clerk and city manager about updates needed to the Soldotna Community Memorial Park and its policy manual.
    City Manager Stephanie Queen said plots are filling up fast, and reservations for plots are filling up even faster.

ECON 919 - Mayoral candidates talk taxes, annexation

Dec 6, 2019

 

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. 

 

 


City of Soldotna

The Soldotna Airport closed its paved runway Thursday for survey and geotechnical work to take a look at ground and subsurface conditions in advance of a project this summer. The gravel strip was open for traffic.

City engineer and airport manager, Kyle Kornelis, says the project will take out a hump in the runway that's pronounced enough to maybe run afoul of FAA requirements for visibility.

Soldotna joins new statewide sales tax commission

Nov 14, 2019

The Soldotna City Council voted Wednesday night to join an inter-governmental alliance formed to create a streamlined, statewide process in collecting sales tax on internet purchases. Until now, cities and boroughs in the state were on their own in trying to track down all the tax owed locally by online sellers out of state.
    Councilman Dave Carey said he was supporting it to ensure Soldotna got its fair share.

Soldotna council approves new animal control rules

Oct 14, 2019

The Soldotna city council strengthened rules for animal care inside city limits at its meeting last week.

Soldotna airport to see upgrades

Oct 8, 2019
City of Soldotna

 

The Soldotna city council will vote on a resolution this week to award a design contract for improvements at the city airport.

Just days after the sudden death of Mayor Nels Anderson, citizens of Soldotna and surrounding areas converged on city hall Thursday night, to urge the council to postpone any action on annexation until after the municipal elections on Oct. 1. Others also wanted a new mayor seated before moving forward.

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