Local News

Council eyes seasonal sales tax, OKs Centennial roof $

After years of just talking about a seasonal sales tax, the Ketchikan City Council on Wednesday asked city management to draft an ordinance to implement one.

The proposed ordinance would boost sales taxes during the summer months to 4.5 percent, bringing nearly $2 million in additional revenue for the city. That tax then would drop back to the current 3.5 percent during winter.

The ordinance replaces a suggested half-percent, year-round sales tax increase.

During the special budget review meeting, the Council also asked for an ordinance that would raise the cap on sales tax. As it stands, individual purchases in Ketchikan are taxed up to $1,000. If the ordinance passes, that limit would double.

Both of those votes will come before the Council at its Dec. 19th meeting, which is the Council’s last scheduled meeting of the month. The city is required to finalize its 2014 general government and Ketchikan Public Utilities budgets before the end of the year.

The Council also agreed during the special meeting to add about $360,000 to repair the leaky roof on the Centennial Building. But first, the members talked about options, including possibly selling the building rather than renovating it for use as a museum.

Council Member Matt Olsen advocated bringing the question to voters in an upcoming election.

“I don’t want to see the building go away, but I also know we’re looking at a minimum of $6 million, up to $9 million just to renovate that building,” he said. “Whether or not we want the public to fund it, or whether we want to hand it over or sell it to a private entity that then can use the building, this question is one that we probably need to refer back to the people.”

The renovation would bring the aging structure up to code. The Centennial Building, which used to house the library as well as the museum, now is home to just the museum department. The plan historically has been to turn the entire building over to the museum, which now has most of its collection in storage due to lack of exhibit space.

Council Member Judy Zenge said she agrees with Olsen that the issue should go to the voters, and she questioned the wisdom of spending that much money on the building. Zenge said she toured the Centennial Building recently.

“If I would have privately owned that building, I probably would have shut it down until it was safer for people to work there,” she said.

Public Works Director Clif Allen said the roof is bad, but the Centennial Building is in good shape, overall. And no matter what the city decides to do with it, he said, the roof work still needs to be done.

“Regardless of the future of this building, it’s still a viable structure,” he said. “Private, public, museum, any other use, you simply have to preserve the skeleton, and the first thing you need is a viable roof on that.”

Allen added that after the roof is patched, and some electrical work is completed, he sees no problem with occupancy by museum department employees.

While design work for a whole new roof would start right away in 2014, actual construction wouldn’t start until 2015, so the bulk of the cost could be removed if the city transfers the building to a private entity.

The roof project  funding passed 5-1, with KJ Harris voting no. Council Member DeAnn Karlson was absent.

Also expected at the Dec. 19th Council meeting are ordinances to increase water and wastewater rates. That meeting starts at 7 p.m. in Council chambers.

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