In what has become an annual tradition, City of Ketchikan Mayor Lew Williams III summed up the “state of the city” during the first Chamber of Commerce lunch of 2013.
Williams III gave a positive overview of the City of Ketchikan in his address.
“The state of the city is good, even in these economic times,” he said. “The city for years now has always been a conservative organization, and we’ve not been out there overspending to cause us to have some financial difficulties.”
Williams said expenses are up, though, partly because of the new fire station and library. As a result, the Ketchikan City Council increased the property tax rate by half a mill. Williams warned that additional small tax increases, plus cuts to personnel are likely in the future.
“We can’t just raise taxes, we’re going to have to start cutting things,” he said. “The only thing we have left is, we came through year after year at the same service level. I love the service level that the city is at. Unfortunately, for funding, we’re going to have to affect our service level to offset any further major increases.”
Overall, sales taxes from the tourist season and fuel help keep the city afloat. Speaking of cruise ships, Williams said the coming season looks good, and other industries are developing.
Mining is coming on, hopefully by 2015,” he said. “We have two of them. Niblack, the gold mine, there must be something there; the Chinese just bought into it. We’ll see if they go ahead and buy into Bokan, which is sort of going to be one of their competitors, because (the Chinese) produce probably 90 percent of the rare earth in the world.”
Both mines are on Prince of Wales Island, but officials here hope Ketchikan will benefit as a transportation and support hub for the two ventures.
Williams said the expanding shipyard also looks good for Ketchikan’s future, including plans to build state ferries here.
Regarding infrastructure, Williams said the dock renovation project is moving along, and Phase 2 is on schedule to be done before the cruise season starts. Phase 3 to complete construction is set for next winter, and Phase 4 the following year will involve surface amenities.
A new drive-down ramp at Bar Harbor also is in the works to help commercial fishermen.
The condition of various aging streets is an ongoing issue in Ketchikan. Williams said the city has completed work on Alaska Avenue, and has scheduled continued repairs on Jackson and Madison streets.
Stormdrains will be a continuing project, and the old hospital on Bawden Street downtown soon will be demolished.
“BAM Construction’s going to start working on it later this month,” Williams said. “It’s an over $600,000 job. You’ll see some blocked streets probably as they’re doing it. Once it’s all down, we’ll have ourselves a vacant lot. Then at some point either make it a parking lot, or come up with some ideas on how we can use it or sell it.”
Williams also talked about Ketchikan Public Utilities, which runs telephone, electric and water divisions.
He said the telephone division is working on a plan to offer cell service; the electric division now has the lowest rates in Alaska; and the water division still is waiting for state approval to start operating the new water treatment plant.