The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly on Monday spent the bulk of its regular meeting discussing whether to enroll in the National Association of Counties “Live Healthy” medical, dental and prescription drug program. The proposal was introduced by assembly member A.J. Pierce at a previous meeting. Action was postponed at that time after questions were raised by a local pharmacist.
Questions and concerns raised during Monday’s meeting included transparency of costs and benefits; with limited local providers, whether residents would seek services outside the community; the apparent endorsement of specific providers by the assembly; and impact to borough staff.
Assembly member Sven Westergard voiced support for enrollment.
“It just adds another avenue where people can get into the Caremark CVS. I think it’s a no brainer. It doesn’t cost us anything. I’m all for it.”
Assembly member Judith McQuerry expressed concerns.
“I don’t think that we really want the borough to be promoting one particular prescription discount card. I think that there are prescription discount programs that are available to individuals, and I don’t want to see the borough being in the position of having to promote this.”
Assembly member Alan Bailey agreed with McQuerry. He added the borough doesn’t have authority over social services programs, and expressed other concerns.
“No recommendation or endorsement has been made by our staff. Sometimes they don’t provide recommendations, but sometimes that speaks loudly in volumes as well as participating in such a specific program.”
A representative from the National Association of Counties, John Losh, answered assembly members’ questions by phone, including whether NACo benefits financially from the program. Losh says NACo receives a small fee when prescription plan cards are used, and the borough also could opt to receive a small fee.
The assembly passed the resolution in a 4-3 vote, with Pierce, Westergard, and assembly members Rodney Dial and Felix Wong voting in favor; and Bailey, McQuerry, and assembly member Sue Pickrell voting against.
During assembly member comments, Dial explained why he voted yes.
“Healthcare costs on this island are so expensive, and if this can potentially help some people, I think it’s worth giving it a chance. And that’s also with the understanding that if we develop any problems with this, we can discontinue our participation.
Dial and Bailey commented that the borough should not accept any fees.
Under new business, the assembly voted to introduce two ordinances. The first amends code to allow for employee incentives and recognition. This was developed, in part, to provide bonuses for borough bus drivers working through the summer months. The ordinance would also include gifts for special services or long-term employment. Bailey expressed concern about how much would be spent on the program, and felt employee recognition, and incentives to retain bus drivers should be addressed separately.
“I will probably vote for this at this stage for a public hearing, however I will ask for a split in that discussion, and will ask for a specific definition of what ‘gifts’ means.”
Bailey says public money is being used, and it should be clear to residents what the money is being spent on and how much.
Dial asked if the ordinance would affect retirement system liability and future retirement benefits. Assistant Borough Manager Deanna Thomas says that had not been looked into, but information could be brought back at the next meeting.
The assembly voted unanimously to move the ordinance forward.
The second ordinance repeals the Herring Cove Tourism Management Program, which has had limited success because of the borough’s lack of enforcement powers. Managers propose instead to start work on a neighborhood plan for Herring Cove that would address tourism concerns.
The Department of Transportation is planning to upgrade the Herring Cove Bridge. The borough has proposed implementing an ambassador program, beginning this summer, until the project is completed. The program focuses on public safety and dissemination of information.
Dial says this would be the beginning of a process to improve the area for all. Wong agreed that this is not just for the tourists, but also the Herring Cove residents.
“…who have long been pained by the explosion in visitor ship and the impact they’re experiencing. I’d like to emphasize that we are definitely hearing them, and we are aware of the situation at hand. And we hope to make a better impact than we did as a body back in 2014.”
The motion to move the ordinance forward passed unanimously. Both ordinances will come back to the assembly for public hearing at its next regular meeting on February 19th.