Before voting to increase the summertime sales tax by 1 percent, the Ketchikan City Council heard from a few people who oppose the measure.
Susan Peters, who owns a downtown art gallery, said the increase would make Ketchikan’s sales tax the highest in Southeast Alaska during the busy summer months. She stressed that the Council should instead look for more ways to cut the budget.
Peters also suggests using cruise passenger head tax funds to offset some government expenses, and making another effort to combine the city and borough governments.
“This community has two governments and we need one,” she said. “This is a pure example of why one government would cut a lot of cost for this community of 15,000. This alone would save much money. All (other) communities in Southeast are under one government. With our population, there is no need for two and we would get along a lot better.”
Past attempts to consolidate the local governments have all failed to pass a public vote.
Paul Jarvi, owner of a downtown jewelry store, also opposes the seasonal sales tax. He said it could easily have the opposite effect that the Council intends, resulting in less revenue for businesses, and subsequently the city.
“If you have the highest sales tax in Southeast Alaska, the sales are iffy,” he said. “And we won’t know that until the future.”
Trevor Shaw, a high school student who serves on the Ketchikan School Board, also spoke against raising sales taxes. Shaw, speaking for himself and not as a member of the board, said he hasn’t heard anyone speak during public comment in favor of raising taxes.
“I would think that would count for something,” he said. “And yet, here you are, talking about raising them. It looks like you will. And (I) haven’t seen any substantial cuts, either. It has been said over and over and over again there is a spending problem, not a revenue problem. The current course that the city is taking is absolutely unsustainable.”
Later, during Council discussion of the issue, members cited added costs to pay for voter-approved bonds as a big reason for the tax increase. They also reminded the public that the city has not raised taxes for many years.
Council Member KJ Harris said the public wouldn’t like it if the Council fired city employees. That would mean lower services, such as fewer days that the library could be open and fewer police on the streets.
“And all the firemen, well they can’t come save your house on account of they ain’t working past 3 on Tuesdays,” he said. “We can cut things like that, but boy you guys out there will be really pissed at us when we have to do it. That’s part of the big problem I’m finding with this budget process. Everybody wants all this, but don’t want to pay for it.”
A proposal from Council Member Marty West to lower the wintertime tax failed. The main motion to raise the seasonal sales tax to 4.5 percent then passed 5-1 with Council Member DeAnn Karlson casting the only no vote.
During discussion of the city budget, a proposal by Karlson to reinstate funding for the Ketchikan Police Department K-9 program passed, and then the entire city budget passed 5-1 with Karlson voting no. The KPU budget passed unanimously.
The next Ketchikan City Council meeting is Jan. 9