A plan to borrow nearly $7 million to upgrade and reconfigure some of Ketchikan’s public ball fields could be inching towards a vote of the people. A narrow majority of Borough Assembly say they want voters to weigh the proposal’s cost, which could come at the expense of other priorities.
Pushing ahead with upgrades to borough fields despite a precipitous drop in borough revenue in 2020 and 2021 would come at a cost, Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao told the assembly.
“There are ways that this might work, but it requires trade-offs,” she said.
Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly is weighing a $6.7 million bond measure to finance upgrades to public sports fields around Ketchikan.
It would upgrade several athletic fields including Norman Walker Field near Schoenbar Middle School, which would be reconfigured to better accommodate high school and American Legion baseball teams.
It would expand the larger of two baseball diamonds at Walker Field, add new grandstands and replace the sand playing surface with artificial turf. The smaller Little League-size field would be removed, perhaps replaced by parking.
Upper Drency Dudley Field near Ketchikan High School would also get a new artificial turf surface and be expanded to accommodate the school’s softball team. Lower Dudley Field would get a new scoreboard and an expanded seating area.
The bond would also pay for more than $600,000 in accessibility upgrades for a field at Houghtaling Elementary.
The planned upgrades stem from a 2019 study of the borough’s athletic fields, including a survey of the people and organizations that use them. The assembly voted last year to make that a priority.
But Ketchikan’s finance director, Cynna Gubtayao, says moving ahead with the field bond would likely mean delays for a number of other projects — a roof over Ketchikan’s skatepark, an outhouse for South Point Higgins Beach and upgrades to the Lund Street playground.
Assembly Member Felix Wong said he favored waiting until this summer’s sales tax numbers come in. He said he worried that taking it to a public vote before the borough had a clear picture of its summer 2021 revenues could lead the public to reject the bond and kill the project.
“So maybe giving a little bit more time would give the general public a little bit more confidence to vote in favor of this,” Wong said.
But a bare four-member majority of the assembly voted to move the bond towards the October 5 municipal ballot. Assembly Member David Landis said he was optimistic that tourism-related revenue would recover sooner than the finance director’s projections.
“I think this is important,” Landis said. “I trust the voters to vote directly on this. I think that we owe it to the field users to put this in front of the voters. And I think if we don’t, it may never happen.”
Landis was joined in support by Assembly Members Jeremy Bynum, A.J. Pierce and Sven Westergard. Borough officials are scheduled to bring back the bond question in early August so the assembly can formally place it on the ballot.
In other business, the assembly approved an $18,000 pay increase for Borough Manager Ruben Duran. This comes out of contract negotiations that also adds six vacation days for a total of 36 days of annual leave.
Landis said until a recent public records release requested by KRBD and Duran’s predecessor, Dan Bockhorst, who objected to the pay increase, he hadn’t known that the manager had consulted with the borough’s human resources staff on competitive salary levels.
“And that struck me as very — it didn’t sit well, with the manager directing one of his employees to help him determine what his salary should be. I think that should have been done independently. I had no idea that that had occurred,” Landis said.
He said he wanted to postpone consideration of the contract — he said he had some lingering questions about how the contract had been negotiated. Duran’s current contract expires in December.
Landis, Westergard and Bynum each said the salary negotiation process was “uncomfortable.”
But Assembly Member Judith McQuerry was having none of it. She spoke up in defense of the compensation package.
“Postponing this is not in our best interest. This is pandering. This is pandering to one disgruntled ex-borough employee, and I object to pandering,” McQuerry said.
She voted with a 5-2 majority to approve the contract that increases the manager’s salary to $160,000 per year with six additional vacation days. Westergard and Landis voted against it.
Other assembly members, including Bynum and Austin Otos, said the $18,000 raise for the manager was reasonable. They argued the previous contract had underpaid the borough’s top administrator who has been in the position since late 2016.
Weiss Fields ordinance
Finally, the assembly green-lit a code change allowing stricter rules for dogs on Weiss Fields near Point Higgins Elementary School. But the assembly amended the new ordinance to make clear that dogs would still be welcome on the sports fields.