The boroughwide property tax rate will stay at 5 mills following Monday’s nearly five-hour Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly meeting. The proposed budget had included a half-mill property tax increase.
In the middle of the long meeting, and before the Assembly considered amendments to the borough budget, members had a work session, and argued both sides of the property tax issue.
Assembly Member Glen Thompson said the problem is decreased revenue that the school district isn’t sharing equitably. He said that, earlier this year, the borough told school district officials that it would provide $7.75 million for the local contribution, but then the Assembly didn’t stick with the plan.
“The real problem is that we’ve gone off the rails, as far as I’m concerned, from where we were back in January when we said we were going to slowly ratchet down our school funding to something more affordable, and slowly ratchet up the mill rate to meet it, and we were going to meet around 6 (mills),” he said.
Assembly Member Agnes Moran agrees. She said there was a plan to back off on school district funding, and the Assembly instead “kicked the can down the road.”
Assembly Member Allen Bailey disagreed with that argument. He said that the extra $300,000 that the Assembly added to school funding will be paid for through higher-than-expected sales tax revenue.
“The only plan that I ever agreed to was serving our public and making sure that we do the best we can, and we all do that,” he said. “When I first started this thing, the mill rate was at 5.8. Then it was reduced to 5.0. I wasn’t in favor of that, because I thought it was too deep a cut at that time to sustain current services.”
However, Bailey added that increasing the mill rate every year to make up for budget deficits isn’t a solution.
Assembly Member Bill Rotecki said the 5.0 mill rate wasn’t sustainable when the Assembly reduced it to that level, and it still isn’t sustainable if the borough wants to maintain the service level that the public has grown used to receiving.
One mill equals is one dollar for every $1,000 dollars of assessed property value. That means a home valued at $200,000 is taxed $1,000 by the borough. If the increase had been adopted, borough taxes on that home would have gone to $1,100.
The city has its own mill rate, so property owners within city limits pays both borough and city property taxes.
After the work session, and much later in the very long Assembly meeting, members voted 6-1 to keep the current mill rate intact. Rotecki cast the only dissenting vote.
The Assembly on Monday also approved an additional $155,000 for improvements to Dudley Field, and a 1.5-percent cost of living raise for non-union borough employees.