Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly approved the borough’s annual budget and an increase in the property tax rate to help fund local education. But despite the tax hike, the assembly is sticking with a roughly $150,000 cut to local school funding.

Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly approved a slight increase in property tax rates for this year Monday night. Assembly member Judith McQuerry moved to amend the borough tax resolution to increase the area-wide school tax rate by 0.2 mills for the next fiscal year. She says it’s a step toward closing an ongoing deficit in the account that provides local school funding.

“I don’t enjoy the idea of raising taxes, especially at this time, but I concur with everyone who has spoken tonight. We cannot continue down the road we’ve been going. So, this is my attempt at compromise.”

The amendment brings the borough-wide property tax rate to $5.20 per $1,000 of assessed value. For a home assessed at $400,000, it’s an $80 tax increase, and borough finance officials estimate it’ll raise property tax revenues by roughly $311,000 annually.

Assembly member David Landis opposed the mill rate increase.

“I think it’s a terrible time to increase the tax burden on local residents, and I think there are other ways that revenue can be generated. Either backfilling with the ARPA funds or reserves. I may be the only one voting against this, but I don’t believe this is the time.”

Landis and Vice Mayor AJ Pierce voted against the amendment but both voted in favor of the final, amended tax resolution.

The assembly also approved a $55.6 million borough-wide budget Monday night. Prior to the vote, a $50,000 increase in the budget for the borough manager’s office was discussed after it drew scrutiny from the public.

Assistant Borough Manager Deanna Thomas explained that she plans to leave her job, that it was not classified correctly, and it will likely take a higher salary to attract a replacement.

“With my departure, the borough manager plans to seek correction of the classification of that position. He is going to readjust the pay range for that position. That would be in the form of a resolution that would be approved by the assembly.”

Thomas said the exact personnel costs won’t be known until a new assistant manager is recruited. Adding to the financial uncertainty, Borough Manager Ruben Duran is still negotiating a new contract. Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao said that if the manager’s office ends up not needing that extra $50,000, the assembly could move the money elsewhere.

“The excess could not be spent to increase wages or pay bonuses outside of assembly approval.”

In addition, the assembly approved a $48.3 million school district budget. It’s about $150,000 less than the district asked for — and School Board President Kim Hodne told the assembly the district would have to cut staff.

“And we just can’t hold it without depriving the kids education.  And that means a world language teacher, that means English Learners Language, the ELL class, it means paraprofessionals. We’re cutting staff now. It’s staff that cannot and should not be cut.” 

However, the amended ordinance does not decrease the district’s annual spending limit. That means that if the district can secure grants or other outside funding to make up for the cut, it won’t have to come back to the assembly for permission to spend it. Assembly member Sven Westergard was the only one to oppose the amended school budget.