The Ketchikan City Council deferred action Thursday on the issue of premium pay for assistant managers filling in for department heads, instead asking the city manager to provide more information.

The recommended motion on the agenda was to more narrowly define premium pay, which is about 8 percent more than the normal salary. The resolution would change personnel rules for the fire and police departments, specifically, although the issue seems to only involve the fire department.

City Manager Karl Amylon says that the practice of premium pay for any time that the assistant fire chief filled for the chief only recently was brought to his attention.

“The department heads certify the payroll, and payroll is processed,” he said. “As a result of this incident, I can assure you that there will be periodic reviews. The HR manager was not aware that this was transpiring, nor would she have approved it.”

Amylon says premium pay for filling in two weeks or less should not be allowed for anyone whose job description states that they will act as the department head when the manager of that department is absent.

Assistant Fire Chief John Dorman spoke to the Council, and opposed the change in personnel rules. He says it’s been the practice for the assistant fire chief to receive premium pay, and he questioned why that had to change now.

Dorman added that it’s not an occasional duty for him to fill in for the chief.

“In the past 14 months, the assistant fire chief has averaged more than 55 hours each month working in the capacity as acting chief,” he said. “This equates to 776 hours over that period of time. If this resolution passes as it is currently written, the acting chief would only have been compensated acting premium pay for 72 of those hours. That’s more than 700 hours that he would not have been paid while acting as your fire chief and your emergency manager.”

Amylon later responded that if the Council wanted to maintain the practice for the fire department, it would have to expand that compensation to all the other city departments, which currently don’t offer extra compensation for acting department heads filling in for two weeks or less.

Council Member DeAnn Karlson noted that because the fire department has been paying the extra amount for acting department heads for so long, changing it now is like trying to unring a bell. Amylon says that’s why he brought the issue to the Council.

Also Thursday, the Council voted 6-1 to protest the renewal of First City Saloon’s liquor license, and set a public hearing for March 19.

First City Saloon owes about $7,000 in back property taxes, which is the basis of the protest.

Council Member Dick Coose voted against the protest. He earlier supported a motion to approve the liquor license, contingent upon the business paying its taxes. That earlier motion failed with only Coose voting yes.

The liquor license in question is for the bar’s package store, not for the bar itself.

The Council also heard from Southeast Alaska Power Agency CEO Trey Acteson, who gave a presentation about the agency’s plans to raise the Swan Lake Dam to increase storage capacity. SEAPA wants to bond for the $7 million still needed to complete the project, and each member community must sign off on documents to allow that.

SEAPA provides hydroelectric power to Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg through the Swan and Tyee Lake dams. Acteson says documents will be sent to the city soon for review.