Ketchikan’s city council is poised to hike property taxes next year as part of its 2020 budget. The increase will help pay for salary increases as the city expands the police and fire departments. 

City budget

Topping the list of changes for next year is a half-mill increase in the city’s property tax rate. 

That would bring the tax rate from $6.60 to $7.10 per $1,000 of assessed value.

In plain English, that means a property owner with a home assessed for $250,000 would see their tax bill rise by $125.

Ketchikan city officials say the hike is necessary to pay for salary increases approved by the city council this summer

Several public safety positions would also be added. Fire department officials have warned that firefighters are facing burnout due to chronic understaffing. City officials recommend adding three firefighters — far less than what the fire department had requested. 

Those three new positions will cost $347,184. That’ll be funded partially by state-collected head taxes and a reduction in fire department overtime and temporary staff. The city will pay for the remainder —$155,857 — out of reserves.

Police Chief Joseph White also said his department was running with minimal staff. In a Dec. 2 memo, he requested two to three additional officers and one additional dispatcher. 

The council granted that request in its Dec. 11 budget meeting, adding three positions, according to a Dec. 17 staff memo. That’s forecast to cost the city $305,383. Most of that will come from marijuana sales tax revenues, with a little more than $40,000 coming from state head taxes.

Electricity rates are going up, as well — by 3.5 percent in the new year.  

That increase was scheduled for April of this year, but the council deferred the hike as Ketchikan grappled with a drought-induced diesel surcharge. The drought has since ended, and the diesel surcharge is set to disappear completely by April of next year. The surcharge currently sits at 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The public will have a chance to weigh in on the city budget at the beginning of Thursday’s meeting.

Other agenda items

The budget isn’t all the council will consider Thursday.

The city is considering buying and demolishing the former Bar Harbor restaurant to add harbor parking. The owner is asking $395,000, but a third-party appraisal put the value at $300,000. In addition, the property will need $14,230 in asbestos removal work before it can be torn down. 

The council is also set to decide whether to hire an attorney to help make a deal with regulators over its drinking water system. Ketchikan’s system failed tests for fecal coliform bacteria in November, and is facing a deadline to install a filtration plan within 18 months. City Attorney Mitch Seaver recommended the city outsource the legal work. The cost is estimated at $50,000. The city’s first choice is Anchorage attorney Eric Fjelstad.

The council will also consider whether to award a $1.1 million contract to replace cruise ship dock fenders to Western Dock and Bridge, a Ketchikan marine construction firm. That’s over-budget by more than $650,000. But Port and Harbors staff has warned that the current fenders need to be upgraded to handle today’s larger cruise ships.

A new public defender contract is also on Thursday’s agenda after the current lawyer on the job has informed the city he’s leaving next month. 

Thursday’s meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. in Ketchikan’s city council chambers.

This story has been updated to reflect that the police department will add three positions if the 2020 budget passes the City Council.