A state COVID-19 health mandate requires that most arrivals from outside Alaska during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine for two weeks. They’re asked to give some basic information on arrival: name, recent travel history and the physical address where they’ll spend the next two weeks in quarantine in case they’re infected with the coronavirus.
But elected officials in Ketchikan have some questions on who can access this information.
“Just from a legal standpoint, if we ever were to pursue enforcement, having a mechanism to prove that they were supposed to be under quarantine — and therefore weren’t — would be something solid,” said Ketchikan City Council member Emily Chapel during a meeting last Thursday.
City Attorney Mitch Seaver says it’s not clear. And that’s a concern.
“Because frankly, it’s rather nonsensical if we don’t know who these people are that are supposed to be following these rules,” Seaver said during Thursday’s meeting.
So far, Seaver says state officials have declined to share that information with the city, citing medical privacy laws. A spokesperson for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services didn’t immediately respond to questions why.
Chapel said she doesn’t necessarily think the city should automatically prosecute offenders.
“That being said, I think we do need a paper trail and something to protect our community if we did need to walk down that road,” she said.
She suggested that the city could pursue civil — rather than criminal — penalties.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy told reporters last week he’s asking Alaskans to voluntarily comply with the state’s 15 mandates. He said he didn’t want to use a “heavy hand” for enforcement. And he said he’s satisfied with the level of compliance so far.
In other business, the council unanimously supported rolling back a planned property tax hike that would’ve cost owners of a property assessed for $250,000 an extra $125.
The city had planned to raise the property tax rate by half a mill in July. But Ketchikan City Manager Karl Amylon told the council that the coronavirus — and the associated drop in cruise ship tourism — had changed the city’s calculus.
“Given the hardships that residents are under right now, I just think it’s the right thing to do,” Amylon told the council Thursday.
Amylon said nixing the tax hike would provide some relief to residents anticipating a lean visitor season.
The council voted unanimously to keep the property tax rate at 6.6 mills. The move is forecast to increase the city’s $2.5 million general fund deficit by more than $400,000.
City officials say the shortfall could be offset by the city’s hiring freeze and other cost-cutting measures. But even then, Ketchikan’s city government is forecast to end the year with around $3.5 million in cash savings. That’s about 15 percent of the city’s annual expenditures.