A resolution in support of a request for $20 million in federal funds for Ketchikan Medical Center’s planned renovation project passed in a split vote during Monday’s Borough Assembly meeting.
Assembly Members Agnes Moran and Glen Thompson voted no. Thompson regularly votes against asking for or accepting federal funds for various projects. He said the hospital project would be more appropriately funded through the state.
“I’m a very strong supporter of the Ketchikan hospital and the foundation, but I’m not going to support this resolution,” he said. “I’m going to leave you with a quote, one of our founding fathers, James Madison, said, ‘I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expanding on the objects of benevolence the money that’s their constituents’.’ Unless and until staff can show me where in the enumerated powers of the U.S. Constitution they should be funding our hospital, I believe this is something that should be directed to the state and I will not support it.”
The hospital’s renovation was the top priority on the community’s list of capital project funding requests submitted to the governor in the fall. None of the projects made it into the governor’s proposed budget. The Legislature has not yet drafted its capital budget, over which the governor has line-item veto powers.
Hospital spokeswoman Penny Pedersen said the surgical suite, in particular, is in poor shape, which makes it challenging to attract new doctors. For example, a doctor recently toured the hospital as part of his recruitment process.
“He was ready to say no when he walked in,” she said. “He said, ‘This is not a facility I want to work in. I came here because I wanted a full-spectrum surgical practice. I like this town, I like the feel of this town, but this will not allow me to use my skills and the full breadth of experience that I have.’”
When that doctor heard about the renovation project, Pedersen said he changed his mind.
Also Monday, the Assembly voted unanimously to direct Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst to draft a resolution expressing that the Ketchikan Gateway Borough has no intention of annexing Prince of Wales Island.
Moran said some Prince of Wales residents were concerned that Ketchikan might eventually try to annex the neighboring island. POW recently commissioned a study about forming a new borough, and Moran said that’s partly out of concern over annexation.
“They really are struggling with this,” she said. “I don’t think they got an adequate survey here to make such an important decision. I’m just wondering that since we really do have no intention of annexing them if we should put out a resolution to that effect.”
Bockhorst said it makes sense to send that message to Prince of Wales residents.
“Oftentimes, borough incorporations efforts are prompted by fear or opportunities,” he said. “And frankly, having looked at the borough feasibility study, I don’t see a lot of compelling reasons to motivate somebody to initiate a borough in that area absent a fear that they could be swallowed up by an adjoining area.”
Assembly Member Bill Rotecki suggests that local officials offer information to Prince of Wales Island residents about what it’s like to run a borough.
A resolution will come back to the Assembly later for consideration. The next Assembly meeting is Feb. 18.