At its June 2nd meeting, the Borough Assembly voted to eliminate the 0.7 mill non-area-wide property tax. The proposal was introduced by Assembly member Glen Thompson. The money generated from that tax was deposited in the City of Ketchikan’s general fund and used largely to support the city-owned library.
On June 4th, Assembly member Alan Bailey, who voted against the measure, introduced a motion to reconsider. The Assembly met in special session on Monday, June 9th, but because of an advertising error could not discuss the issue or vote. Public comment was allowed, with 14 people speaking in favor of restoring funding, and one opposing. The Assembly recessed the meeting, and then reconvened on Friday for further public comment and discussion.
Of the 19 people who testified Friday, all but two spoke in favor of restored funding.
After unanimously voting in favor of reconsidering the amendment that removed the funds, Assembly member Jim Van Horn introduced an amendment to add back into the budget the 0.7 mill non-area-wide property tax.
Assembly member Glen Thompson says it is not a library issue, but a tax issue. Thompson has repeatedly argued that the 0.7 mill property tax rate imposed on Borough residents living outside city limits, plus a half-cent increase in city sales tax, amounts to double dipping.
“Obviously this is a very contentious issue and this is an institution that’s been around for many, many years. Simply cutting it off has raised a lot of rancor.”
Thompson instead suggested increasing the area-wide property tax by 0. 3 mills with the money used to fund the library. This would be a tax increase on both city and non-city Borough residents. He says this would be more equitable, and suggested funds be provided through an economic development fund grant.
Assembly member Bill Rotecki, participating by phone, says he agrees the question of equitability is important, but says this is not the time to propose a new tax.
“This is something that should have happened at our January session. That would be an appropriate time to have a lengthy discussion about different ways (to fund the library), or in a special meeting to discuss this. But this is a poor way for us to make a major change in our tax structure.”
Rotecki suggested Van Horn’s motion be passed, and arguments for and against be considered at another time.
Assembly member Alan Bailey also opposed Thompson’s motion.
“The bottom line is that this is a community asset, this is a community resource. It affects so many people in so many ways. This is not the time now, at the last minute, at the last second-reading of an amendment to make such a drastic change. To reduce 30 percent of the operational cost of the library at this last moment, I think is absolutely not acceptable.”
Thompson challenged Bailey’s statements.
“I do take exception to the notion that this was done at the last minute. I’ve been talking about this for the last six months. I talked about it in the planning session and I told you at that time that I planned to make the motion to do away with the 0.7 property tax mill rate. I made good on what I told you I was going to do in December and in January, and I’ve talked about it since then. So to characterize this as a last-minute effort is simply not true.”
Bailey says he agrees the issue was discussed with Mayor Dave Kiffer, but was not introduced to the public until the final reading of the budget. Bailey says that’s why he wanted the decision to be reconsidered.
“And as everybody has seen, folks have stepped forward. We’ve had crowds we have not seen before and I really appreciate the input of everybody that’s stepped forward, including those who don’t agree. We benefit from diversity.”
Assembly member Agnes Moran says she supports funding the library, but wants to see it funded in a different way. Moran disagrees that it’s too late to change where the funding comes from.
“The mechanism, doing it either through an area-wide property tax and a grant, or a non-area-wide rates yields the same result. We yield the same amount of money out of the Borough’s coffers to deliver to the library folks. And that’s the key here – getting them funded.”
Thompson then introduced an amendment to the main motion that would remove the 0.7 mill non-area-wide tax, and increase the Borough property tax rate from 5.0 mills to 5.3 mills. That motion failed 3-4 with Thompson, Moran and Assembly member Mike Painter voting in favor; and Bailey, Rotecki, Van Horn and Assembly member Todd Phillips voting against.
The Assembly then voted on the amended main motion that would reinstate a 0.7 mill non-area-wide property tax. That motion passed unanimously.
The Assembly also gave direction to staff to amend the Borough budget to reflect Friday’s decision. The approximately $405,000 generated annually through the non-area-wide tax provides more than 30% percent of the library’s funding.