Ketchikan’s City Council will consider Thursday whether to retain consultants and lobbyists to try and leverage more federal pandemic relief.
That’s because the city is facing a multi-million-dollar budget shortfall that threatens to drain its cash reserves. Sales tax revenues were down sharply in 2020, and with no cruise ships tying up at Ketchikan’s city-run berths, the city’s port account used for maintenance, lease and loan payments is running low.
City officials are bracing for the impact of another potentially lost cruise season. Ketchikan officials say the $1.7 million earmarked for the city in the most recent federal relief package isn’t nearly enough to make up for the its city’s losses.
“The $1,718,002 in relief funds direct from the U.S. Department of the Treasury are certainly appreciated but do not begin to address the financial needs of the City,” Ketchikan City Manager Amylon wrote in a memo to the City Council.
So Ketchikan is looking to the state to contribute some of the roughly $1 billion in federal pandemic relief it’s projected to receive. It’s not entirely clear what that money can and can’t be used for as federal guidance won’t be released until May. But states and local governments are expected to be able to use the funds to fill holes in their budgets. That’s a change from previous federal relief packages which didn’t allow that.
But how bad is the economic picture in Ketchikan? While there is state-level data on things like employment at a borough level, much of it is out-of-date. Amylon says more specific data would help the city make its case to the state for additional relief.
So he’s asking Ketchikan’s City Council for $5,000 to hire consulting firm Rain Coast Data for a fuller picture of business revenue losses and unemployment in Ketchikan. The council is expected to take up the request Thursday.
In other business, the City Council will discuss whether to hire a lobbyist to advocate for the city at the federal level. Mayor Bob Sivertsen brought the idea forward.
Amylon says the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan has opportunities for local funding beyond the $1.7 million directly allocated to the city. Amylon also points out that congressional earmarks — specific spending for projects added by members of Congress — look poised to make a comeback. A D.C. firm could lobby members of Congress to support additional funding for Ketchikan projects.
But the price could be steep: Amylon says lobbyist Steve Silver has quoted the city at $4,500 a month. Silver, a former aide to the late Sen. Ted Stevens, also lobbies for the city of Craig and the Alaska Forest Association.
Ketchikan’s City Council meets at 7 p.m. Thursday by videoconference. The meeting will be live-streamed at the city’s website and broadcast on local cable channels. Members of the public can weigh in by calling 228-5658 prior to the meeting. Written comments can also be emailed to the clerk’s office at firstname.lastname@example.org