The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday met to reconsider its decision to cut its share of funding for the Ketchikan Public Library. A 0.7 mill Borough tax provided more than $400,000 to the City of Ketchikan’s General Fund. Though not earmarked, the money was used to support the library.
The special meeting was scheduled by Borough Mayor Dave Kiffer, but due to an advertising error by the Ketchikan Daily News, the meeting notice did not appear in the weekend edition of the paper. The state’s Open Meetings Act requires at least 24-hours’ notice of special meetings. Borough code requires at least 48-hours’ notice.
At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, Mayor Kiffer said because of the error, the Assembly could listen to public comment, but could not ask questions or discuss the issue. He said the Assembly would reconvene on Friday.
Fourteen people addressed the Assembly, and all but one spoke in favor of restoring library funding.
Lauren Munhoven says she lives outside city limits and believes the Borough contribution should be restored. She is an accountant with the City of Ketchikan but will be resigning on June 30th. She said she was there representing herself and her infant daughter. She expressed her concerns about what might happen if the funding is not restored.
“When I talked to the library, they suggested that the library would be closed four days a week versus one. Non-city accounts, even children’s, would be locked. There wouldn’t be any more special programming for kids, such as story time, summer reading program – they had 124 kids sign up on the first day. There wouldn’t be any more movie nights, author visits or Teddy Bear Picnic. They wouldn’t be buying any more book materials. They would eliminate all outreach services to the elderly and institutionalized.”
Munhoven says having Borough residents pay a tax for library services wouldn’t be double-dipping as was suggested during the last Assembly meeting. She says the money is put in the city’s general fund which is used for more than just the library.
Kelly Ludwig-Johnson also lives outside city limits and spoke in support of restored funding.
“This particular issue really blows me away. Yes, as a borough resident I did not vote on it, however it’s a community asset. Regardless of who is paying for it, everyone should have equal use of that library. The word ‘public’ is in that library.”
Ludwig-Johnson says when she told people in other communities about the decision, they didn’t believe it.
“I have friends down south that shake their heads and say ‘you’ve got to be kidding.’ Was that your goal in voting this way? To be an embarrassment? I’m embarrassed and I think you should be too. It’s absolutely one of the worst decisions this body has ever made.”
Kaylee Wocjick is a teenager and she says the library provides a safe place for her and her friends to read, study and hang out. She says events sponsored by the library’s Teen Advisory Group are especially important to her.
“From what I’ve heard from the librarians, it will cut TAG events, which are a big part for high school students, because we go to them. It gives us a place to go Friday nights rather than to some party where something bad could happen.”
Jeff Schultz says the Assembly should stick to its original decision and cut funding.
“I did not have a voice in whether to build that library. I don’t use it. I don’t begrudge anyone who does. You are our elected representatives. You should be representing our interests. If we’re going to support the library, it should be done with a user’s fee. I don’t have a problem doing a user’s fee with the recreation center. I don’t have a problem because they are my choices. But, to tax me for something that someone else is going to use and I won’t, is not representing me very well.”
David Wiechelman, whose wife is a University of Alaska librarian, told the Assembly he disagrees with Schultz. Wiechelman says he is taxed for many services he does not use, such as the school system, but is willing to support them.
“I have no problem with my tax money paying for the schools and educating other people’s children. I fully support that. I fully support my tax money supporting the library. Schools. Libraries. Museums. These are things that make our community a better place to live. For everybody. Even if you don’t go to school, or use the library, or go to a museum, it still makes it a better place for you to live.”
After about a half hour of public testimony, the Assembly recessed the meeting. The Assembly will reconvene on Friday at noon in Borough Assembly chambers to discuss and vote on the matter. There will be time for additional public comment at the start of the meeting.