Candidates running for Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly sat down for a virtual forum hosted by KRBD Tuesday. One subject the candidates discussed was consolidation — combining Ketchikan’s city and borough governments.
“I have lived through six different votes on consolidation,” said Borough Assembly candidate Judith McQuerry during a KRBD call-in forum Tuesday. “I still am a proponent of consolidation. I think that it’s just crazy to have two full governments in a community of 14,000 people.”
She said combining the two could save money by combining administrative functions. But McQuerry said the ground-level departments don’t overlap much.
Many of Alaska’s largest cities, like Anchorage, Juneau and Sitka, have combined their city and borough governments. Fairbanks, however, does still have separate city and borough governments.
The question came from a KRBD listener, who argued the separate governments mean that borough residents outside the city of Ketchikan can’t vote for City Council — which decides issues that affect the primary commercial center of the community.
Jeremy Bynum is another candidate seeking one of three seats on Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly.
“It’s not just businesses that don’t have the ability to have an interaction with decisions,” Bynum said. “We have ratepayers that have electricity and telecom that don’t have a say in what happens with those resources that they have available to them.”
That’s because the municipal electric and telecommunications provider is owned by the City of Ketchikan and governed by, again, the Ketchikan City Council.
But Bynum said he’s undecided on the question of consolidation. He pointed out there could be downsides for borough residents — property taxes are higher for city residents, partially to pay down city debt.
Incumbent Borough Assembly Member A.J. Pierce made a similar argument.
“The scale is tipped pretty heavily, where the city has a whole lot of debt — you know, bonding and such — compared to where, well, the borough’s got about $11 million in reserves, we’ve got about $10 million in the general fund,” she said. “We are doing pretty well, to maintain a tight budget as we can.”
Pierce said she remains open to the idea.
Fellow candidate Sheen Davis said she supported the idea in theory, but she wouldn’t actively work towards uniting the city and borough.
“The quick answer is no, I will not work toward the combined government,” she said. “Most of the people I talk to you are not for consolidation.”
But she argued that residents outside city limits who own businesses subject to city sales and property taxes should have a voice in city policy-making. Davis said she’d work towards making that happen.
Trevor Shaw is also seeking a Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly. He remarked that five of the six votes on consolidation happened before he was born in 1995. He said it was a question worth exploring — he said his experience as a member of the Ketchikan Emergency Operations Center showed how smoothly a united local government could run. But…
“There’s some differences in the way government is structured that I think is really important to protect, such as the Local Education Fund at the borough level,” he said, “and ensuring that we have a formula funded, sustainable method defined local education is incredibly important to me, so those are questions are very important to me.”
Shaw cited the Local Education Fund as an achievement from his tenure as Ketchikan’s youngest-ever school board president. Shaw later resigned from the board as he faced a recall effort in 2018.
The sixth candidate for Borough Assembly, Matthew Merrill, didn’t participate in the forum. He wrote in an email late on Tuesday that his work schedule prevented him from attending.
The top three vote-getters in the six-candidate field will get a seat on the assembly. Election Day in Ketchikan is October 6.
The candidates for Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly touched on a number of subjects during Tuesday’s forum, from how they’d help represent the interests of marginalized people to economic diversification. You can find the full two-hour forum below or on the KRBD Evening Report podcast feed.