Soldotna City Council

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The last of the absentee ballots are in and all votes have now been tabulated for this year’s Kenai Peninsula elections.

Municipal election day saw low voter turnout across the Kenai Peninsula Borough but a nail-biter for a Soldotna City Council seat, and a few upsets in the works.

Polls closed at 8 p.m. Tuesday for in-person voting across the borough, but absentee, questioned and special-needs ballots still need to be counted before results are certified. Across the borough, 7,395 votes were cast on election day, which is about 14 percent turnout.

Sabine Poux/KDLL

Three seats on the Soldotna City Council are up for grabs this October.

KDLL has been interviewing the candidates for that race and other municipal races on Kenai Conversation. You can play the interviews in full and learn where the candidates stand on city issues — including riverfront development, COVID-19 mitigation policies and 911 dispatch services — online any time.

Municipal elections in the Kenai Peninsula Borough are around the corner.

This week and last week, we spoke with the candidates for the three open seats on the Soldotna City Council.

Dan Nelson is running for Seat C and joins us in the studio. Erick Hugarte is also running for the seat. He did not respond to requests for an interview.

Municipal elections in the Kenai Peninsula Borough are fast approaching.

This week and next week, we’re talking to the candidates for the three open seats on the Soldotna City Council.

Jordan Chilson is currently on the council and is running for Seat C. Micah Shields is also running for the seat. He was unable to join us in the studio today.

Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails

Construction begins Monday on a Soldotna park three years in the making.

Sarah Pyhala, who’s spearheading the Kenai Peninsula Peace Crane Garden Trails, plans to build a Japanese-themed garden and 2,700 feet of trails near Marydale and Riverwatch in Soldotna. She has longer-term plans in mind for the park, too, including a fish pond and tea house.

That’s been a sticking point for neighbors, who say the project has changed a lot since it was first proposed.

City of Soldotna

Pamela Parker is stepping down from the Soldotna City Council at the end of the month.

“It was never on my radar that I would be resigning my council seat,” she said. “But my family and I had an opportunity to purchase a new home and it just so happened to be right outside city limits.”

That makes her ineligible to serve on the council. Her last meeting will be May 26. 

Elizabeth Earl/KDLL

The Soldotna City Council decided at Wednesday’s meeting not to hold a vote on a potential mask mandate, quashing the ordinance before it could reach a public hearing.

But dozens of Soldotna residents weighed in on the virus anyway during the comment period for another resolution, which established a citywide COVID-19 education campaign under the city manager. It passed unanimously at the meeting.

That resolution didn’t sit well with many attendees.

City of Soldotna

Spectator capacity at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex will remain at 80 for the time being. The Soldotna City Council discussed increasing that limit in a work session Wednesday but ended up not taking action on the matter during the council meeting.

High school hockey and other winter sports have been postponed and the Kenai River Brown Bears Junior A hockey team is starting its season in Minnesota. The soonest a decision will be made whether to move to Soldotna will be December.

The youth Kenai Peninsula Hockey Association is on the ice but the most spectators they tend to get for games is 40 to 60 people. The COVID-19 risk level on the central Kenai Peninsula is currently high. Given all that, Council Member Justin Ruffridge advocated holding off on making changes.

“I don’t necessarily want to rush making decisions while things are in a very difficult situation,” Ruffridge said. “… I think this would be a pertinent thing to maybe let sit as is for the time being. Knowing it’s going to be something that we have to address prior to anything occurring, once we hear if high school hockey is coming back.”

Sabine Poux/KDLL

The most recent Soldotna City Council meeting was hardly Quinn Cox’s first glimpse into local government. His dad, Tyson Cox, is the District 4, Soldotna representative on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and a previous city councilmember.

So Quinn, a junior at Soldotna High School, knew what he was getting into when he was elected to be the council’s student representative.


Courtesy of Soldotna City Council

At their respective meetings earlier this month, local council and assembly members had very different conversations about the same joint resolution for preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Without any real muscle, the resolution encouraged — not mandated — that residents follow CDC guidelines, like mask wearing and social distancing. The mayors of Kenai, Soldotna and the borough sponsored the resolution to show a united commitment to coronavirus caution. Homer was later added to the group.

Ultimately, all three bodies passed the resolution. But the conversations were very different. 

 


Individual Soldotna households can apply for coronavirus relief funding this October.

It’s called the Economic Relief for Residents Program, and is the latest in a string of coronavirus relief packages offered by the city of Soldotna. The city is hoping to have the program open between Oct. 1 and Oct. 30, according to John Czarnezki, Soldotna’s director of economic development and planning.

City of Soldotna

The Soldotna Regional Sports Complex has been a bot topic at Soldotna City Council meetings. On the agenda for this week’s meeting, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, the council will discuss the COVID-19 operating plan for the facility.

At the council’s last meeting, Aug. 26, council members voted on renovations to the 37-year-old building. The city is moving forward on a phased plan to rehab the facility. City Manager Stephanie Queen says the first phase is updates to the function of the building. 

“It’s a suite of improvements that are really a lot of deferred maintenance at our sports center,” Queen said. “We’ve gotten a lot of life out of that facility. It’s an aging facility. The administration had a small group that got together and worked with some design professionals to identify some projects that could really improve the functionality of that space for the users and for our staff there.”

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 effort to establish a borough-wide commission on sustainability and climate resilience is gaining broader support coming up to the assembly’s vote on it.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly is scheduled to consider whether to establish the commission during its June 16 meeting. The commission would be charged with advising the assembly and administration on goals like reducing waste, improving energy efficiency in buildings and transportation, and increasing local clean energy use, and work with borough staff and communities to plan for adaptations to environmental changes, among other goals. The commission would have nine members representing the various regions of the borough and four at-large seats appointed by the mayor and approved by the assembly.

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.

At Wednesday night’s Soldotna City Council meeting, the policy governing the resurrected Mini-Grant program was approved, along with establishing a sub-committee to review proposals and make recommendations.
    The funding for the city’s mini-grants was cut in 2015, but replaced in the current Fiscal Year 2020 budget.
    The sub-committee will be made up of two city council members, the city clerk and two other administration employees. They will be appointed by the mayor and approved by the council.

After a summer and fall of meeting on Thursdays, the Soldotna City Council voted last week to revert to Wednesday for its regular council meetings.
    The council voted this summer to move from Wednesday because it coincided with the Levitt Amp Soldotna Music in the Park series. Many council members wanted to attend the concerts, and so the meetings were moved.
    The change back to Wednesday was suggested by Vice Mayor Paul Whitney because of certain conflicts on Thursdays peculiar to the fall and winter.

        The annexation debate surrounding the city of Soldotna is now in the hands of the state legislature and Local Boundary Commission.

The city council voted unanimously last (Thurs) night to approve an ammended annexation plan and direct the city manager to submit it to the state for consideration.

City Hall was again filled with potential Soldotna citizens decrying the annexation process as unfair and suggesting last night's vote be further postponed because of next week's municipal elections and the recent death of Mayor Nels Anderson.

Annexation vote on Soldotna Council agenda tonight

Sep 26, 2019

    At its meeting tonight (Thursday), the Soldotna City Council will have a final vote on submitting an annexation plan to the state. But before they do, the council members will be asked to consider a substitute resolution.

The submission vote was scheduled for two weeks ago, but the weight of public comment prompted a delay to incorporate suggested changes.

However, a substitute resolution being proposed by Councilman Tim Cashman goes even further, and removes Areas 4 and 5 from the annexation plan, reducing the area annexed from 3.78 square miles to 2.6.

Jenny Neyman/KDLL

Three candidates are running for two seats on the Soldotna City Council. The Soldotna Chamber of Commerce held a candidate forum Wednesday, with a wide-ranging set of questions. 

Lisa Parker is running unopposed for reelection to her seat. She is president of Parker Horn Company, a consulting firm, and previously worked for Apache, Inc. and Agrium. She served on the council in the 2000s and was elected again in 2016.

Dave Carey and Pamela Parker are vying for the other seat.

City of Soldotna

As the city of Soldotna nears the end of its annexation process, the council listened to public testimony Saturday at Soldotna High School on its proposal to add roughly 3.8 square miles to city limits.

Nearly 100 people attended the meeting and about three dozen testified. The most common comment was the sense of unfairness that people in the proposed areas do not get a chance to vote on the matter.

Brian Olson lives outside the proposed annexation areas but has been a vocal opponent from the start.

“It appalls me that in this day and age the Soldotna Council, who do not represent folks living outside the city limits, can annex land without the explicit consent of the residents and businesses,” Olson said. “Borough residents have zero representation on the city council but will have their property rights and lines forever changed.”

Golf balls rain on golf course neighbor

Aug 27, 2019

Golf balls flying over the Sterling Highway out side of Birch Ridge Golf Course in Soldotna has become a problem for a nearby resident. Robert Pope brought some he’s collected this summer as a visual aid while addressing the city council Thursday night.
“This is just a small collection of balls that I have collected a hundred and 20 feet from the borderline of the Sterling Highway this summer,” he said to the sound of a bucket of them rolling on the table. “I have a lot.”
Pope said he’s had to dodge the golf balls, and some have caused property damage.

It’s been a busy July in Soldotna, with full campgrounds and music in the park causing the expected traffic snarls. At last week’s city council meeting, Soldotna Public Works Director Kyle Kornelis updated the council on the street situation.

Accessibility improvements coming to sports complex

May 15, 2019
City of Soldotna

  People with mobility issues have long had trouble reaching the upper levels of the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex, as it has no elevator. But that will soon change.

The Soldotna City Council last week authorized the city manager to waive the formal bidding process and enter into a contract with Alaska Stairlift and Elevator company of Anchorage for the installation of an inclined platform lift.

Councilman Paul Whitney asked Public Works Director Kyle Kornelis about the actual equipment, wondering what kind of lift it will be.

Starting in July, the day the Soldotna City Council meets will change from its usual Wednesday to Thursdays. 

Councilman Tim Cashman proposed the change at last week’s regular meeting. 

“When the Levitt Amp (concert series) came out this year and we’ve gotten all those super nice Wednesday nights, that I started thinking of the family members enjoying the park during our very short summers,” he said, adding it'd be nice to join them.

Trying to find a way for a builder to put up a company sign in a rural residential neighborhood took up about a third of Wednesday night’s Soldotna City Council meeting, and the issue remains unresolved. The issue, however, could lead to more than a re-zoning of a few lots.

Homebuilder Clint Hall had petitioned the council to rezone several lots amounting to about 12 acres to limited commercial so that he could advertise model log homes. Business signs can be displayed in a rural residential zone, but they must be under a certain size.

Soldotna joins other cities with budget statement

Mar 28, 2019
City of Soldotna

 

Like so many municipalities around the state, the Soldotna city council approved a resolution at its meeting Wednesday night asking the legislature and the governor take another look at his budget proposal.

Soldotna council approves zoning change

Feb 19, 2019

 

A lot of commercial expansion has happened near the intersection of the Spur and Sterling highways in Soldotna the past few years. And more is on the way.

Soldotna City Council members will be allowed to participate in twice as many meetings by remote dial-in under a resolution passed Wednesday night.

Sponsored by Councilman Tyson Cox, the measure bumps the number of times a council member can join a meeting via teleconference from three to six.

“And I just thought this would give more opportunity for people to have a voting say in meetings even if they can’t be there”

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