The Ketchikan City Council on Thursday approved the city’s mill rate, signed off on a liquor license for a new pizza restaurant on the West End and renewed the hospital lease for another decade.
The Council quickly and unanimously approved a resolution establishing a property tax rate of 6.2 mills, with no Council member offering comments on the motion.
In an earlier memo, Finance Director Bob Newell wrote that while property assessments within city limits did increase this year by about $7.3 million, assessments didn’t go up as much as the city’s 2012 budget had anticipated.
Newell wrote that increased revenue sharing from the state, and a less-than-anticipated debt payment for the new library building will help make up for the shortfall.
Newell and City Manager Karl Amylon noted that the city expects additional costs next year and potential reduced revenue that could mean a $766,000 hit on the 2013 budget. Amylon suggested that the Council might want to consider a gradual increase in the city mill rate.
One mill equals one dollar per $1,000 assessed value. The 6.2 mill rate means a homeowner with a house assessed at $200,000 will pay the city $1,240 this year in property tax.
Also Thursday, the Council voted 5-2 to approve a public-convenience liquor license, allowing Stone Deck Pizza to sell beer and wine. Council Members KJ Harris and Marty West voted no.
Business owner Quinn Lontz spoke during public comment. He said he tried purchasing an existing liquor license, but there were none available, and the state Alcoholic Beverage Control Board has no plans to issue a new one.
Lontz said that to apply for the public-convenience license, he went door-to-door, talking to everyone within a one-mile radius of his business, and nearly everyone was in favor of his application.
He said that, unlike regular liquor licenses, a public convenience license is not transferrable, so he would not be able to sell it if he later decides to sell his business.
Terry Wanzer, co-owner of The Landing, which operates a restaurant and bar on the West End, objected to the license. He said that approving the license would be unfair to business owners who have spent $40,000 or more to purchase liquor licenses.
Wanzer also is a member of CHARR, which represents bar and restaurant owners in Ketchikan. The CHARR board sent a letter to the Council objecting to the public-convenience license.
The state ABC Board did not object to the license application.
The Council in 2008 denied a public convenience liquor license for The Fish House downtown.
Council Member Dick Coose said the situation is different today, in part because in 2008, a liquor license was advertised for sale. He says the city should support private business.
Council Member Sam Bergeron agreed.
“I heard the comments from the Stone Deck Pizza folks and the CHARR folks, and I vehemently disagree with the CHARR folks,” he said. “I think that this is a process that is open and legal, and open to anyone, including CHARR members, and if you have the gumption to get up and get a thousand signatures and, by golly, and go forward and run a business, you should be able to do it. This is a pretty easy decision for me. I’m supporting this motion.”
Also on Thursday, the Council unanimously approved a 10-year extension of the hospital lease agreement between the city and PeaceHealth.
PeaceHealth operates the city-owned hospital building.
Before the discussion, City Mayor Lew Williams III ruled that West, who works for the hospital, could participate in the vote. West said she has no financial interest in the issue.
Bergeron asked whether the city could sell or transfer the hospital building to PeaceHealth. He said the city recently transferred Gateway Center for Human Services, and could try to negotiate a similar deal.
Amylon said that avenue has been explored.
“I have had, in the past, discussions with the PeaceHealth folks about the possibility that if we ever do move the $76 million project forward, that perhaps they would consider at that point, taking everything and we’re out of it,” he said. “Those discussions were not productive. There is no interest on the part of PeaceHealth to assume the obligations of the existing facility.”
The Council also voted Thursday to hire a seasonal parking enforcement officer, a three-month position that will cost the city about $8,600. The Council asked that the seasonal employee focus on derelict vehicles, rather than the downtown area.
The motion passed 5-2 with Bergeron and Council Member Matt Olsen voting no.
Williams, who only votes in the case of a tie, objects to the additional parking enforcement position.
“I’m totally against this,” he said. “With an account balance of $55 in unreasonable fine amounts, I think that the less (people) we have down there the better. I think the one person does a great job. I don’t think we’re going to make any extra money, I don’t think we’re going to have more or better enforcement.”
Also on Thursday, the Council deferred hiring a new Ketchikan Public Utilities network operations and engineering manager at the top of the city’s salary schedule for that position. The negotiated salary for Rodney Grissom of South Dakota was $113,118.
Council members expressed concern about starting a new employee at the top.
KPU Telecommunications Division Manager Ed Cushing says that particular position is important, and has been empty for eight of the last 16 months.
“The history of this position is one in which we have a very difficult time recruiting, and once we get people, they leave for higher wages somewhere else,” he said. “These types of people are in demand and we’re competing in the open market for these folks. We pay a price in the mid-term, short term and long term by not having the right people in this particular position. If we don’t have a person of quality in that position, the entire operation ultimately suffers.”
The Council voted 5-2 to defer, with Bergeron and Olsen voting no. The Council directed Cushing to provide more background information about the applicant.
Amylon added a couple of items to his report to the Council. He said that the formal dedication for the new downtown fire station is set for 2 p.m. July 3, with an open house the next day after the Fourth of July parade.
There was no action following an executive session at the end of the meeting.