While expressing some reservations, Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly members voted unanimously Monday to approve a petition to form a new service area in the borough.
The vote begins the process of creating the proposed Old Dairy Road Service Area off South Tongass Highway. The petition calls for a 3.4-mill property tax on 13 parcels in the proposed boundaries. The estimated $10,000 raised annually would go toward road improvements and maintenance.
Agnes Moran of Women in Safe Homes asked the assembly to reject the petition. She said WISH owns two undeveloped parcels in the proposed service area, and was not included in the petition process. Moran said she tried to contact the petitioners for information, but never received a response.
Moran said WISH received a bill for $4,000 for repairs to roads that don’t reach the WISH-owned lots.
“To put $4,000 into perspective for me: That is more than I spend on supplies for my Girls on the Run program, my Let Me Run program, my Coaching Athletes into Men, and Athletes as Leaders,” she said. “So, it may not seem like a significant amount, but when you’re operating in the environment that we’re operating in now, it all adds up.”
Moran later said that the annual property tax for WISH’s two parcels would go up about $400 if the service area is formed as proposed. While WISH is a non-profit, the two parcels are undeveloped and don’t currently contribute to WISH’s mission. Therefore, those parcels are not tax exempt under the rules established for non-profit organizations.
Bret Hiatt is one of the petitioners. He said it’s unfortunate that WISH feels left out of the process. Hiatt said the real estate company that facilitated the petition process was supposed to contact property owners. He said the main concern is the condition of the road, which is deteriorating.
Hiatt said the petition is the first step in a long process. He said delays would mean missing the deadline for inclusion in the October local election.
Borough Clerk Kacie Paxton detailed that process for the assembly. She said the petitioners complied with borough code. The next step is a public hearing, which has been scheduled for July 29. Paxton said the borough clerk’s office will send out notices by mail, advertise, and post information on social media.
“And at that public hearing, the draft ordinance will be available for the public and property owners to review,” she said. “After that public hearing is held, if there’s not a need for additional public hearings, then the ordinance will be brought to the assembly. The proposed timeline is the first meeting of August for introduction.”
If the assembly votes in favor of introducing the ordinance, it would return for a public hearing at the assembly’s next meeting. If the assembly adopts the ordinance, it would go on the October ballot.
But, as Assistant Borough Manager Deanna Thomas points out, those voting on the service area will not necessarily be the property owners.
“Basically, anyone who is registered to vote in this area,” she said of those eligible to participate. “Residents, potentially, their tenants would be the individuals (voting).”
Most of the property owners don’t live there, and are not registered to vote in that area. Unless they move and change their registration, they can’t vote on a service area question.
Various assembly members expressed concern about the lack of participation leading up to the petition’s submission. But, they also acknowledged that the petitioners followed the process. Assembly Member Judith McQuerry pointed out that there will be more opportunities for input.
“What we did tonight begins a process. It’s not the end of the process, it’s the beginning of the process,” she said. “And I would encourage the property owners and the residents and anybody else who has a concern about that issue to show up at the public meeting.”
Also Monday, the assembly voted unanimously to introduce an ordinance indefinitely extending the borough’s tobacco tax. The ordinance will come back to the assembly for a public hearing and second vote. If adopted, the measure will go on the October ballot for voters to ratify.
This report has been edited to correct an error.