Local News

Council candidates talk hospital, consolidation

Candidates seeking a seat on the Ketchikan City Council sat down with KRBD on Thursday to talk on the air about current issues.

From intergovernment relations to consolidation to the hospital bond question, Ketchikan City Council candidates Matt Olsen, Dick Coose and Judy Zenge covered a lot of ground in just one hour.

The three agreed that the city and Ketchikan Gateway Borough governments need to work harder on getting along, and communication is key. Coose suggested that the elected bodies have joint meetings more often, to talk through some current issues.

One of those unresolved issues is the borough’s contribution to the city’s library operations budget. The annual agreement between the two governments for that funding is on hold right now, because the borough wants the city to track library usage.

Zenge said that’s an issue she still needs to investigate, while Olsen said that everyone needs to contribute to the library’s operations. He suggested that the governments consider making the library a borough power, rather than something run by the city.

Coose said he believes that the city’s request for help with the library’s bond debt triggered the borough’s delay in signing this year’s operations funding agreement.

“The two bodies need to sit down and talk about this a little bit,” he said. “I think we’ll come to the conclusion that probably based on population, the way it is now, is the fair way to do it. Because it’s basically not who uses it, it’s availability. It’s available to every person in the borough.”

Whenever the two local governments go through a period of disagreement, the subject of consolidation inevitably comes up. The three Council candidates were noncommittal on the concept’s chance of success in the future, considering that it’s failed to meet with voter approval repeatedly in the past.

Coose suggested that, if someone wants to try again, they survey the public to find out what they didn’t like about past proposals. Olsen said he believes many people who voted against it in the past will never support consolidation, because they don’t want the government structure to change.

Zenge said she’s heard from many people who support the idea of consolidation. However, “I don’t think anyone really knows what that looks like,” she said.

“We need to spend more time talking to the people, and finding out what that means to them. (But) I think right now, we need to learn to get along as two governments before we try to move forward as one government.”

All three candidates say they strongly oppose property tax increases, although Olsen suggested that the city consider changing its sales tax structure, increasing it during the summer season, and then lowering it for winter.

Speaking of sales taxes, the existing sales tax is how the city plans to pay for up to $42 million in bonds for the planned hospital renovation project, if that measure passes on Election Day. Olsen said he probably will vote in favor of the bonds, but he was disappointed that the state’s contribution to the community’s top capital priority project was $15 million, rather than the $20 million requested.

“At this point, I have to admit, I’m still 50-50,” he said. “I’ve been creeping up from ‘hell, no’ when the state came back with $15 million, to now I’m at 50-50. Today, I’m at 50-50, so I imagine that in the next couple days I’m going to talk myself into it.”

Coose said he, too, was disappointed by the state’s limited contribution to the $62 million project. But he plans to vote yes for the bonds. Zenge said she fully supports the project.

The entire Council candidate forum is posted on the KRBD website, along with forums and stories about local races for Borough Assembly and School Board. Election Day is coming up on Tuesday.

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