The Norwegian Bliss is docked at Ketchikan’s Berth 3 on June 11. The Bliss is the first mega-cruise ship to enter the Alaska market. More will start arriving in the next few years. (KRBD photo by Leila Kheiry)

On Monday night, KRBD hosted an on-air forum featuring candidates for Ketchikan City Council. Sam Bergeron, Janalee Gage, Dragon London and Spencer Strassburg are running for two open seats on the council. They answered questions submitted by members of the public for about 90 minutes.

Below is a summary of that forum.

Based on questions submitted by listeners, City of Ketchikan voters are particularly concerned about taxes, public services; and the effects of ever-expanding cruise tourism.

Taxes are a primary revenue source for government, and pay for many of the public services citizens want. But, most people also would like to pay fewer taxes.

Bergeron wants to lower taxes overall by exempting some items from sales tax. He said costs are too high for most residents.

“We look at the cost of sales tax on food, we look at the cost of sales tax on heating oil, residential rent,” he said. “I’m a new grandfather. I got sent down to the store to buy my new grandbaby some diapers. Thirteen bucks, and another dollar in sales tax on top of that. And I got to thinking, what was it like when I was a new father? What was my income stream like?”

Bergeron said the tax cuts he has in mind could be made without reducing services. He said the budget always is padded, and the city puts money back into reserves every year.

London, though, said the city budget has been cut in the past few years and is pretty “bare bones” at this point. London suggests that Ketchikan Public Utilities could save some money by switching to paperless billing.

Gage said it’s challenging to cut more from the budget, and potentially dangerous for expenses such as replacement emergency vehicles. She adds that the city has 100-year-old water and sewer lines that need work, and that costs money.

Strassburg agrees the city shouldn’t cut more, but he said officials could make sure everyone who should pay taxes is up to date. And, he said, there are potential new revenue opportunities.

For example, Strassburg said, the city could try to purchase a waterfront site next to Berth 4 downtown, and offer lease space for lunch trucks or other vendors. Strassburg said the cruise industry has a lot of untapped potential.

“We’ve got like 8,000 of us,” he said, referring to the population of the city. “If we can’t figure out creative ways to get 1.2 million people to pay our bills – it’s just ridiculous.”

Ketchikan hosted more than a million cruise passengers in 2017, and will again this year. That number is supposed to continue rising as more mega-cruise ships such as the Norwegian Bliss enter the Alaska market.

London, who has worked with the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, said it’s critical for Ketchikan to prepare for those ships, and all the extra people they’ll bring.

“And part of what needs to happen with that is, we need to accept it. Either we expand those docks or we won’t have cruise ships,” she said. “They’re coming in the next three years, and they’re bigger. And we have to expand all the docks.”

Ketchikan’s current cruise ship docks can take up to four ships, including the Bliss. But that will change when more mega ships start arriving.

London said uplands development to make sure the community can manage all the additional people is another project, and will require a community-wide conversation.

Gage agrees that expansion of the downtown cruise dock is important. But, she said, the community also should think about how many passengers is too many for Ketchikan to handle.

“I believe that we have an opportunity to decide and give our straight-up points to the cruise industry what we want, how we want our community perceived, what we’re willing to do, and I think they’re going to listen because people do want to come here,” she said.

Gage and other candidates agree that economic diversification would benefit everyone, so Ketchikan isn’t completely dependent on tourism.

The candidates talked about a variety of issues on Monday, including water-quality of Ketchikan’s beaches; on-site marijuana consumption businesses; a proposed ordinance to ban the intentional feeding of some wild birds; and improving services for Shoreline Drive residents.

Below is a recording of the entire 90-minute forum.