A contract with a firm to help the City of Ketchikan work through its hospital lease agreement was again postponed by the city council on Thursday.

This time, the delay was prompted by the absence of two council members and comments by a couple of PeaceHealth community advisory board members. One was Bill Tatsuda, who said he was speaking as an individual and not for the board.

Tatsuda told the council there’s no need to hire a consultant; the city should simply renew the lease with PeaceHealth.

“In my opinion, PeaceHealth is an excellent organization, financially strong, with very professional, very capable management and staff,” he said. “I have been chairman of the board’s quality committee for several years, and I have seen first-hand PeaceHealth’s accomplishments and continued high scores in providing safe, quality health care to its patients.”

The community’s hospital is owned by the city and managed by PeaceHealth through a simple property lease. The current lease expires in fall of 2023.

During council discussion, Mayor Bob Sivertsen said the council has heard many concerns from members of the public about PeaceHealth. Billing problems have been the most frequent complaint, but there have been other issues raised.

Through the current lease, Sivertsen said, the council doesn’t really have a way to address those concerns.

“The reality is our lease agreement is just a building lease. That’s it,” he said. “So having heard numerous individuals speak about their concerns, their care or their billing, I guess it’s in the interest of whether there’s an option of moving this from a land lease to some kind of an operating lease.”

City Manager Karl Amylon added that PeaceHealth asked the city to start the lease-renewal process. He said the council decided it wanted to look at other communities and how they work with their health care providers.

“Neither I nor my staff have the expertise to conduct that kind of review,” he said.  “We also talked about doing significant public outreach to find out what are the concerns relative to health care in this community as it relates to PeaceHealth.”

That led to searching for a consulting firm that can guide the city through that process. The council agreed, though, to postpone action on a contract with ECG Consultants, and to meet in work session with hospital board members.

Also Thursday, the council postponed action on a proposed salary increase for City Manager Amylon, but only after reducing the increase by nearly $15,000.  

Amylon’s current salary is $195,578. The original motion called for increasing that to $220,000 a year. There was some public comment critical of such a raise.

Council Member Dave Kiffer praised Amylon’s work, but said:

“I just think at this time – 12.5 percent is a chunk,” he said. “And we’re looking at increasing other city employees as soon as this compensation study comes out, and I guess right now I’m just not quite there at 12.5 percent.”

Kiffer moved to amend the salary increase to reflect a 5-percent raise instead. That would bring Amylon’s salary to about $205,300. The amendment passed unanimously. But before the main motion could be put to a vote, Amylon asked for a recess and talked off to the side with Mayor Sivertsen.

When the council returned from recess, Sivertsen called for a postponement. He said that some council members weren’t present for an evaluation of the manager, and that information was important for making a decision. Sivertsen also noted the absence of some council members on Thursday.

Judy Zenge and Sam Bergeron were absent. Dick Coose was out of town but participated telephonically.

The council agreed to postpone voting on the manager’s raise until its next meeting, on March 7.