Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly candidates this year are, from left, Kent Colby, Alan Bailey, Joel Jackson, AJ Pierce, Sue Pickrell and Kevin Gadsey. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

Six candidates for Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly participated in KRBD’s on-air candidate forum Wednesday. They talked about economic development, grants for nonprofits and how to plan for likely budget constraints.

Three seats are open on the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly, and none of the incumbents are running for re-election. Six candidates will be on the ballot. They are Alan Bailey, Kent Colby, Kevin Gadsey, Joel Jackson, Sue Pickrell and AJ Pierce.

Asked about top priorities if elected, former assembly member Bailey said he’s concerned about the state government transferring costs to local governments in an attempt to reduce the state’s budget. He said the borough already faces a deficit, and needs to figure out how to plan for the coming fiscal year.

“You do one of two things. You increase revenue or develop revenues; or you decrease services. Those are two options,” he said. “And I think there’s frankly a third one; when you may be able to coordinate or collectively combine services that may be duplicative… There’s always a way to try to find a common-sense approach, and that’s how I approach these problems.”

Jackson has served previously on the Ketchikan School Board. He said economic development would be his big concern. He advocates for more public-private partnerships. School funding is a big part of the borough’s responsibility, he said, and animal control seems to be a growing concern in the community.

Blakely was adopted from the borough-run Ketchikan animal shelter. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

“When I was younger, that was sort of a throw-away item. What I see more and more online is a lot more contentious rancor about what to do, how to react, how to respond,” he said. “I think over time, we’ll see more and more concerns expressed over that. It’s a small part of the borough’s oversight area, but it’s one of those that definitely creates a lot of problems.”

Jackson added that more coordination and cooperation between the local governments would benefit everyone.

Pickrell also is a former school board member. She said she, too, is concerned about increasing costs passed down from the state. Pickrell said a plan is needed to reduce costs and still help community nonprofit groups.

“Instead of pitting one group against another, instead of saying we’re cutting all programs across the borough 10 percent – to me that’s not a reasoned approach,” she said. “We need to have a plan in place for that to happen. I think that plan can’t happen unless there’s many partners involved.”

Gadsey runs the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition. He is new to local politics, at least as a candidate. He said his first priority would be to listen and learn.

“To be able to ask questions and to really be able to hear from the people in the community – what they’re challenges are and what their focus is, for where we need to improve Ketchikan,” he said.

Gadsey said the budget will be a big source of questions. He said assembly members can be champions for efficient, effective government.  

Colby is a former newscaster for the local KTKN radio station, and this is his first stab at elected office. He said his focus will be economic development and diversification. Colby said that as the Northwest Passage opens up, Ketchikan is in a good location to be a major hub for shipping services.

“That will be the second Gold Rush for Ketchikan,” he said. “We have the real estate, we have the assets to be a major shipping hub to service that transportation corridor. We talk about developing Gravina Island, where we could store merchandise and goods that are going to be transported across the Northwest Passage.”

Tour operators hold signs while cruise passengers disembark from the Eurodam earlier this year.  The seasonal cruise industry is a large part of Ketchikan’s economy. (KRBD file photo by Leila Kheiry)

Colby added that with more people telecommuting for work, Ketchikan could encourage the technology industry, as well, if the infrastructure is developed with that in mind. He also mentioned server farms and call centers as potential year-round industries.  

Pierce is a small-business owner and is new to local politics. She said she, too, hopes to expand year-round business opportunities to carry the community through the winter after the summer tourism season shuts down.

“There’s a lot of really intelligent people here in Ketchikan that just want to link arms and grow our economy together,” she said. “It seems like it’s a little more fragmented. So, coming together and having that conversation on how that looks, I’m really looking forward to that.”

Regarding grants for non-profits, most of the candidates agreed they like the program, but would like to see more defined criteria for who receives funding. Pickrell said she’d like to put the issue of social service powers in front of voters.

A 5-percent marijuana retail tax is on the boroughwide ballot, but would not be collected inside city limits, where a 5-percent pot tax already has been established. Jackson, Gadsey, Colby and Pierce said they support the excise tax. Pierce and Colby added that they are in favor of allowing on-site consumption lounges, which is an issue the state Marijuana Control Board will discuss in November.

While objecting to the legalization of marijuana, Pickrell and Bailey say they are generally opposed to targeted taxes, including the marijuana retail tax.

You can listen to the entire forum, posted below. Our next forum is coming up at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, featuring candidates for Ketchikan City Council. The local election is Oct. 3.