A proposal to partially remove the senior sales-tax exemption was indefinitely postponed Monday by the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly.
The ordinance before the assembly called for removing the borough’s senior sales-tax exemption only for sales of marijuana, alcohol and tobacco. The proposal would have generated an estimated $25,000 a year in additional revenue.
About a half-dozen senior citizens spoke to the assembly during the public hearing, and none had anything positive to say about the proposal.
Ed Zastrow is the local AARP chapter president. He said chapter members voted, and were split on the proposal. Zastrow said he was told to not endorse it, but to also not oppose it.
But, he said, “This is not an indication that our senior group is saying, ‘OK borough assembly, go ahead and attack our tax exemptions.’ I’m not saying that at all. You don’t threaten people, but I will guarantee you a battle if anybody looks at anymore of our exemptions. We’ve earned those. We want to keep those. We appreciate it.”
Cheryl Haven spoke against the proposed ordinance. She said she and other seniors live on limited incomes and removing even a portion of the sales-tax exemption would create a hardship.
“The thing of it is, there’s some of us that live on $13,000 to $14,000 a year,” she said. “That’s way below poverty levels.”
Haven said some seniors use marijuana products for pain management. And she sometimes has a hot toddy after working in her garden too long.
Following the public hearing, assembly member John Harrington moved to indefinitely postpone the measure. Assembly member Judith McQuerry objected.
McQuerry said the borough should move forward with the measure, which wouldn’t take effect unless the Ketchikan City Council approved a similar ordinance.
“I cannot see that eliminating the sales-tax exemption on alcohol, tobacco and marijuana is going to seriously harm any of our seniors,” she said. “I understand that there are people who use marijuana medicinally. You can still grow it.”
McQuerry and assembly members Stephen Bradford and Felix Wong voted against indefinitely postponing the ordinance. The measure could still be brought back at a later time, but for now is not moving forward.
Also Monday, the assembly heard an update on the Ketchikan International Airport ferry ramp. Airport Manager Mike Carney said the borough ordered new hydraulic arms as soon as the old ones broke last week, in case they couldn’t be fixed. But, the old ones were fixed and are working. Carney said the new ones will be held as spares, unless an engineer who designed the ramp system recommends swapping them out.
Carney said that engineer is on his way to Ketchikan to take a look.
During assembly member comments at the end of the meeting, Rodney Dial suggested that the assembly consider a policy that would allow assembly members with certain credentials to open-carry a firearm during meetings.
Dial, a former Alaska State Trooper, said that current events show everyone needs to pay close attention to maintaining security.
With local elections on Tuesday, Monday was the last assembly meeting for John Harrington, Glen Thompson and Mike Painter. Their replacements will take the oath of office next Monday.