Non-union borough employees in Ketchikan likely won’t get a three percent raise as promised. That’s after Ketchikan’s borough assembly rejected the proposed pay bump on Monday because of concerns about the area’s economic future.
Assistant Borough Manager Deanna Thomas said a recent compensation study found that borough employees are, as a whole, paid less than the market rate.
“We also found that many of our non-rep[resented] employees, specifically, are more underpaid than their counterparts,” she told the Assembly.
Rejecting the three percent raise for the borough’s 89 non-union employees, she warned, would only make it worse. Borough Finance Director Cynna Gubatayo told the assembly that the cost-of-living increase would cost a little more than $125,000.
The borough’s union employees have an equivalent raise built into their contracts.
But some assembly members said they were concerned about the financial health of the borough. Including the raise, the borough’s general fund deficit is forecast to be just shy of $2.4 million.
Assembly Member Alan Bailey said he thought the borough’s employees deserve a raise, but…
“It has naught to do with issues of deserving, it has to do with planning for the future of what we can afford,” Bailey said.
He said he’d prefer to delay the raise until borough officials had a clearer idea of the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the local economy.
Assembly Members David Landis and Sue Pickrell expressed similar concerns.
The assembly voted down the raise 1-6. Sven Westergard cast the sole vote in favor.
Aside from the raises, the remainder of the borough budget passed unanimously. It’ll come back for final approval May 18.
Emergency Homeless Shelter at Rec Center
In other business, some Assembly members said they felt they’d been left out of the decision-making process regarding the opening and closing of a temporary homeless shelter at the borough-owned Gateway Recreation Center.
Officials at Ketchikan’s joint emergency operations center — including city and borough managers and attorneys — made the decision to use the multimillion-dollar facility as a homeless shelter. And later, the same body made the call to close it ahead of schedule.
Assembly Member Landis expressed frustration that the Assembly didn’t have a chance to weigh in.
He said he’d gotten numerous calls from frustrated constituents — people who opposed the shelter opening in the first place and people who opposed closing the shelter ahead of schedule.
“We were being held to account on something — we weren’t able to exercise the authority that we should have been [able to] as the elected body,” he said.
Borough Manager Duran said the borough’s emergency declaration authorized him to offer the rec center for emergency use.
Assembly Member Austin Otos cautioned against micromanaging borough staff during an emergency. Assembly Member Bailey echoed that sentiment.
“The only actions that were taken were taken in measure to save lives and/or to reduce the spread of the virus,” Bailey said.
Bailey said that on balance, Duran’s decision was the right one for the community. He suggested that the Assembly could offer non-binding guidance. But Bailey said he didn’t want to unnecessarily restrict the manager’s office from swiftly responding to a future crisis — or even a second wave of COVID-19.
The assembly didn’t take any action on the issue.