During a special budget work session, the Ketchikan City Council voted Tuesday to move forward with ending the Ketchikan Police Department’s K-9 drug dog program.
City Police Chief Alan Bengaard recommended that action. He has previously told the Council that last year’s ballot initiative vote legalizing marijuana in the state affected the ability of the drug dog, Booker, to do his job. Bengaard reiterated on Tuesday that Booker’s use is limited.
“At this point in time, as far as case work, he’s pretty much useless to us,” he said.
Booker is trained to detect marijuana, in addition to other drugs. Because the dog can’t indicate which substance he’s found, he no longer can be used to conduct a legal search. Bengaard said Booker now is used for public relations.
The drug dog program costs about $22,000 per year, mostly for the extra compensation paid to the officer who handles Booker.
Bengaard said now is a good time for the dog to retire, and for the city to phase out the K-9 program.
“Overall, the K-9 program is kind of a luxury for a community our size and, application wise for casework is relatively minimal,” he said. “They can resolve a case, but most times, a lot of the cases are built by police work. Overall, my recommendation would be, it’s probably time to be without a dog for a while.”
Chief Bengaard said that if Booker, now about 5 years old, is retired, the officer who has been his handler will keep Booker as a pet.
The Council voted 5-1 for Bengaard to bring back a plan to phase out the K-9 program. Council Member Dick Coose voted no.
Also Tuesday, the Council voted unanimously in favor of the city paying for improvements at the former city-run Gateway Center for Human Services. That facility now is operated by Akeela, Inc., but the property has not yet been transferred to Akeela. City Manager Karl Amylon said the approximately $225,000 worth of building work is needed.
“We’re on the hook. Those buildings are ours; it’s our responsibility to maintain them in a decent condition,” he said.
The cost of the improvements was added to the 2016 budget.
At the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Council members gave direction to city management to bring back the tobacco excise tax issue in January.
That controversial topic was debated this summer, as the City Council and Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly discussed how to implement a boroughwide tax. The two bodies weren’t able to come to agreement.
The City of Ketchikan could impose a tobacco tax within city limits.
The City Council meets again at 7 p.m. Wednesday to continue its review of the draft 2016 budgets. Wednesday’s meeting will kick off the Ketchikan Public Utilities budget review. Public comment will be heard at the start of the meeting.