The Ketchikan City Council talked money for about half an hour Thursday, including rate hikes – particularly for city water.
But, the city won’t increase water rates for fish processors beyond the agreed-upon 8 percent, at least not this coming year. That issue came up during last winter’s budget deliberations. Some on the Council had wanted to increase rates for fish processors beyond that amount, citing their heavy use of water and relatively low rates.
But officials with those companies reminded the Council that the city had agreed to stick to 8 percent increases for three years. That time frame was meant to give processors a chance to purchase and install equipment that uses less water.
In the meantime, though, the city’s water division is losing money. Finance Director Bob Newell suggested an increase to residential rates.
“I think there’s a real need to do a rate increase,” he said. “The water division lost $861,000 last year.”
Mayor Lew Williams III suggested that the city look at ways to trim costs first. He said it’s possible the city will have to look at reducing its workforce, preferably by not filling open jobs. But, he said, reorganizing shouldn’t be ruled out.
“We can’t just dump everything on new fee increases,” he said. “I don’t mind budgeting at the same service level, but we might have to change some of our service levels.”
Also Thursday, the Council talked about costs related to city employees working overtime. A report shows that, so far this year, city and Ketchikan Public Utilities workers have put in more than 12,000 hours of overtime.
Council Member Judy Zenge said the Council should have another special meeting that focuses specifically on that issue. That way, department managers could help the Council understand what drives all that overtime.
“Is it the projects? Is it workers comp? Do we need more people? Is it the vacant positions that’s driving that?” she said.
The Council gave direction for staff to come back with a more detailed report on overtime.
Another topic that came up was the Ketchikan Public Library funding agreement between the city and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. Some Borough Assembly members have been pushing to reduce or eliminate library funding, which this year was about $400,000.
One of the regular complaints about the funding agreement is that residents outside of city limits don’t have a say in library operations.
Council Member Matt Olsen suggested that the city approach the Friends of the Library – a private group that provides support to the library – to see if that organization would start a ballot initiative process in hopes of transferring the library to borough control.
The next regular Ketchikan City Council meeting is Aug. 6.