Three out of the four candidates for City of Ketchikan elected office participated in a Chamber of Commerce forum Wednesday.
City Mayor Lew Williams III and his challenger Lewis Armey Jr. were there, along with incumbent City Council candidate DeAnn Karlson. Incumbent candidate Bob Sivertsen was out of town, but Council Member Dick Coose, who is not running for office this year, filled in to round out the panel.
The topics of questions primarily submitted by audience members at Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce city candidate forum ranged from visionary to the practical.
And for the most part, the four panelists, three of whom are candidates in the upcoming election, didn’t offer any surprise answers. DeAnn Karlson is running to retain the seat to which she was appointed when Jack Shay resigned last November. And while Lew Williams III hopes to remain the city’s mayor for another three years, Lewis Armey Jr. hopes to take that seat away.
Dick Coose, whose term on the Council is not yet up, made a fourth in Wednesday’s panel, filling in for incumbent Council candidate Bob Sivertsen, who is in Petersburg for a Southeast Alaska Power Agency board meeting.
In answer to moderator Keith Smith’s visionary question, Karlson said there are lots of opportunities on the horizon, including the potential mining operations on nearby Prince of Wales Island.
“I’m really optimistic,” she said. “I grew up in an era here where there were loggers walking up and down the streets and the harbors were filled with boats and fishermen, and I’d like to see that energy come back again.”
Williams said electric power is the most important issue for the community, but he believes the City Council is moving in the right direction. He noted support for the shipyard, hospital and more.
“This Council looks to the future and has forward thinking,” he said. “So we’re shooting for that at the hospital and the shipyard, and we’re helping mining wherever we can. Those are the positive things that we look at on the horizon that will continue to make Ketchikan do well and prosper.”
Armey said that his vision includes limits on how much can be charged for rent, and he’d like to see the city repeal sales taxes on rent and groceries.
“The rents are unbelievable high and they’re unneeded,” he said. “This is the result of tourism, I believe, because when you brought in tourism, you brought in all the speculation. I noticed the real estate prices shot unbelievably high, and for what reason? Speculation.”
To help businesses, Karlson agrees with Williams that a reliable source of power is the first focus, followed by infrastructure improvements and investment in the community’s arts and culture. Williams added that streamlining the city’s permit process would help, and Armey said that a road from Ketchikan to Hyder would make a huge difference to local businesses.
Coose said he, too, wants a better permitting process for local businesses.
“There’s a couple of things that’s always bugged me about being in business here, and one is regulations. We’ve got way too many of them, and oftentimes I don’t think our employees use a little common sense to enforce them,” he said.
Regarding the Whitman Lake hydroelectric project, which came in significantly over the estimated cost once bids were opened, the elected officials on the panel say they’re waiting for city management to come back with a plan to reduce the cost before deciding whether it’s worth moving forward with construction. Armey, however, said the project is a farce. He said hydroelectric power could be generated at Ward Cove.
The panel also agreed that raising taxes would be a last resort, although Armey said he would raise taxes to 40 percent on any business that didn’t have at least 70 percent local employees.
Wednesday’s lunch wrapped up the Chamber’s annual series of candidate forums for the local election, which is Oct. 2.