The Ketchikan City Council on Thursday (August 2) took the next step in developing a request for proposals for downtown port and uplands improvements. The council also approved a bond proposition to build a fiber-optic cable. 

The ordinance authorizing issuance of the RFP passed unanimously in first reading, but not before extensive discussion.

Councilmember Dick Coose says he wants the process to move forward since two more meetings are required. One to approve the ordinance in second reading and another to adopt the ordinance.

Councilmember Mark Flora says he wants to meet with a representative from Bermillo, Ajamil and Parters, the consulting firm working with the city on port infrastructure. Flora has questions he hopes can be answered before a special council meeting with that firm on August 6th. He says he was told by city staff he would need City Council approval, and the managers would have to be present at the meeting.

City Manager Karl Amylon says it would be up to the council, but he had concerns.

            Amylon1 (0:14) “There are no safeguards relative to direction being given to a consultant by one council member that may be in conflict with direction that’s given by the council as a whole.”

Flora says questions are not directions. He explained why he wants the meeting.

            Flora1 (0:28) “We’re faced with a generational decision and I, for one, would like to get this information in advance of meetings so we can take the time to study and deliberate it and think it through instead of it being presented to us at the same moment that the public sees it for the first time. I don’t think that best serves the community, and I think it hamstrings us in our ability to make informed decisions. That was my motivation for wanting to speak to Luis (Ajamil) before the meeting.”

After further discussion, the council decided to add an executive session to its August 6th special meeting so all council members can be present and ask questions.

Under the consent agenda, the council approved presenting to voters an $11.5 million bond proposition to finance an underwater fiber-optic cable between Ketchikan and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. The purpose is to improve telecommunication services provided by Ketchikan Public Utilities to keep up with broadband demand. The proposition will be placed on the October 1st city ballot.

Also Thursday night, the council discussed increasing the sales tax cap from $1,000 to $2,000. Councilmember Janalee Gage proposed the discussion. The tax cap has not been raised since 1971. Gage says the tax should be across the board with the exception of rent.

Councilmember Sam Bergeron says he does not support raising the cap on all items. He says that raising sales tax causes people not to shop locally and hurts those struggling to get by.

Gage says she is one of those struggling, but doesn’t buy $2,000 in groceries each time she shops or pay $2,000 a month for fuel oil. She says she doesn’t want property taxes raised and says increased revenue is needed to address infrastructure problems.

                Gage1 (0:21) “I totally get it, that everybody’s struggling and everybody doesn’t want to pay any more. But I also know that at some point, everything’s going to start leaking or we’re going to be in the same position next year and the year after.”

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly is discussing a tax cap increase during its regular meeting on Monday, August 5th. The council opted to wait to see what that body does before continuing discussion.

In other business, with four hands direction, the council moved forward introducing a motion declaring the first Saturday following the release of the Permanent Fund Dividend a tax holiday. This item also needs to be considered by the borough assembly.

The council went into executive session to discuss negation strategies with the IBEW, Ketchikan Professional Firefighters Association and the Public Safety Employees Associations regarding expiration of their collective bargaining agreement. No action was taken.

Downtown Ketchikan near the tunnel (KRBD stock photo, 2013)