Two Ketchikan City Council seats will be up for grabs, and there are three people vying for the job. Candidates faced off at two events this week: one in front of the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce and one hosted at KRBD. Eric Stone reports.
Lew Williams III is a former three-term mayor of the city of Ketchikan and newspaper publisher of the Ketchikan Daily News. He was appointed in May to replace Julie Isom, who resigned.
“I’ve been on the council for a long time. And I have a lot of things that I can bring to the council from the years’ experience,” Williams said. “And some of the big things we got coming up, I’ve worked on.”
He says his focus is on the future of the port and the effect of the cruise industry.
“It’s totally going to set the direction we’re going to go economically in the future,” Williams said.
During the KRBD forum, divisions emerged between candidates over the fees levied on cruise ships.
“You know, you look at things and when they really need to go you push them up, but I’m really happy with them,” Williams said. “The fees we’re collecting off the docks right now.”
“I just think that that’s too cheap of an attitude,” retorted Spencer Strassburg, a challenger. “I don’t do business that way, saying ‘Hey, man, I think we’re getting enough.'”
Strassburg is a business owner who runs a novelty store and smoke shop downtown. He leaned heavily on that business experience throughout the forum.
It would be Strassburg’s first time in office. But not for the want of trying: He’s run four times in the last five years.
“Every year, I just get more and more dedicated,” Strassburg said. “Once I, once I get onto something, I’m kind of like a dog with a bone, I don’t want to let go.”
The other incumbent is Judy Zenge who works as a mall manager at The Plaza. She didn’t attend KRBD’s forum but did address the chamber of commerce. She says she wants to take a closer look at the quality of health care offered by Ketchikan’s hospital.
“We have right now an opportunity to fix our hospital or at least make it work better for our community,” Zenge told the chamber.
PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center is publicly owned but run by a private contractor.
She also complained that Ketchikan’s downtown streets were dirty and had been hearing concerns from merchants. She cautioned the city from becoming overstretched.
“So as much as I support new berths and new docks and more tourists, I support more the infrastructure that’s going to make that possible for us,” Zenge said.
Strassburg spent much of KRBD’s forum discussing ways to bring more revenue into city coffers. He says he’s especially interested in getting more money out of tourists. And he suggested repealing the sales tax exemption for transactions on board the vessels.
“It’s a small price to pay to ask those folks if they’re going to sell a water or something on board that they pay the city sales tax,” Strassburg said.
He also has some more unconventional ideas for boosting revenue: a floating sales tax.
“I think we should have a fluctuating sales tax so it drops in the wintertime for the locals here,” Strassburg said.
Williams also talks about capturing more tourist dollars with the sales tax. He says that’s kept taxes low for residents. He says when he first got on the city council in the late ‘80s- property taxes were much higher.
“We decided back then — let’s pump sales tax into our general fund, into our budget. So we’re not raising property tax on people, so they don’t have to bear the load,” Williams said.
Lew Williams, Judy Zenge and Spencer Strassburg are vying for two three-year seats on Ketchikan City Council. Election Day is October 1st.
Listen to the whole forum below.