The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly met in regular session on Tuesday rather than Monday because of the Labor Day holiday.
The Assembly agreed to move forward with a loan to OceansAlaska, a nonprofit shellfish seed producer; sent an ordinance related to Mountain Point wastewater fees back to borough staff for further review; and agreed to give the City of Ketchikan $200,000 to help pay for the design of the planned Hole-in-the-Wall boat harbor renovation.
The Mountain Point Wastewater measure would have eliminated a system development fee charged to people who want to hook up to that North End sewer system.
Harland Heaton spoke during public comment against the measure. He says he is developing property in the area, and he’s perfectly happy to pay the fee in order to hook up to the system, and eliminating that fee now would be unfair to the homeowners who paid it before.
He also questioned how getting rid of a source of revenue would be good for paying off current debt, or paying for future improvements.
Assembly Member Bill Rotecki wanted to know whether the fee would discourage property owners. “You got some land, you’re going to build a house – (do they say) it’s the cost of doing business? Or do you think there are people who say, ‘No, I’m not going to hook up because of the $1,200 fee,’” he asked.
Heaton replied: “They’re morons.”
He went on to say the cost of putting in independent systems, and then maintaining them, is much more expensive, and he’d be willing to pay two or three times the current fee to hook up.
“Anybody that owns a lot and they won’t pay $1,200, doesn’t have the sense to get out of the rain,” he said.
Later in the meeting, Borough Attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen explained that the system development fee wasn’t working well, and was set to sunset anyway. He had suggested getting rid of it, and then establishing a hookup fee for wastewater.
Borough Assembly members said they were confused by the wording of the ordinance, and wanted staff to review it and bring it back for a future meeting.
In other business, the Assembly voted 4-2 in favor of a $441,000 loan to OceansAlaska. Assembly Members Mike Painter and Glen Thompson voted no.
Here’s Thompson, explaining his opposition: “I think it’s inappropriate for the borough to
be in the business of being a bank. We’ve done it in the past; it’s blown up in our face. This one can do the same thing. We’re running out of economic development funds. When those funds are gone, I don’t know how we’re going to fund community grants. I think this is ill-spent and we’re well advised to turn this down and move on.”
Thompson added that OceansAlaska already has had financial problems, including mismanagement of a borough grant. The organization has a new board, has been cleaning up its books, and is looking for a new manager. OceansAlaska plans to focus on geoduck seed production for Alaska shellfish farmers.
The loan will come back to the Assembly for a public hearing and second vote. If approved in second reading, the loan will be paid out to OceansAlaska over several years, and the nonprofit will have 20 years to pay the money back.
While the vote was split on that issue, the Assembly was unanimous in support of the $200,000 grant for the City of Ketchikan’s harbor design project. Painter did question, though, why the borough is the one to always support city projects.
“Does it ever go the other way?” he asked. “Have we ever asked the city on a project that we didn’t have the funding to do so?”
Borough Manager Dan Bockhorst responded, not in his memory.
Assembly Member Agnes Moran suggested that could be a topic for a future meeting of the Cooperative Relations Committee – a group of borough and city officials that meets to talk about issues of mutual concern.
Thompson added that the harbor project will benefit everyone, and reminded the Assembly that the city is part of the borough.
“The city does represent 60 percent of the citizens in the borough,” he said. “And projects like this – the Hole-in-the-Wall harbor – these are things that everybody in the community uses and can use. It’s not like they’re asking us to replace a sewer main.”
The Assembly was split again on the topic of a tax-free day on Oct. 4. The Ketchikan City Council already approved the tax-free day, which is scheduled for the first Saturday after the Permanent Fund Dividend direct deposit.
Thompson says the day is a gimmick that will cost the borough much-needed tax revenue. He voted against the motion, as did Painter and Moran.
The 3-3 tie was broken by Mayor Dave Kiffer, who voted in favor of the tax-free day.