Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly swore in new members Grant EchoHawk and Jaimie Palmer and bid farewell to outgoing members Felix Wong and Sven Westergard before meeting in regular session October 19. The Assembly held a work session to discuss how remaining COVID-19 relief funding might be spent, allowing capital projects that had been put on hold to move forward.
Ketchikan’s borough has about $5.4 million under the final federal COVID-19 relief package. But the Borough Assembly hasn’t yet decided how to spend it.
Earlier this month, Borough Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao laid out a few options for borough policymakers. She says the COVID relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act – unlike previous COVID-19 relief money — can be used to replace revenue lost during the pandemic, like cruise ship passenger fees and airport taxes. Gubatayao says that opens up a lot of doors.
“And by doing that, it allows us then to use funds to accomplish work that we otherwise might not even get to.”
Gubatayao says that means there would be money available for capital projects that were put on hold. Some were delayed because of the pandemic-induced revenue shortfall.
Other projects were set aside to make room in the budget for a voter-approved $6.7 million bond measure that would upgrade and add artificial turf to borough ball fields. Those include repairs and improvements to the Rainbird Trail, a new restroom at South Point Higgins Beach, and a roof over the Shane Howard White skatepark.
“In order to accomplish the field bond, (of) the potential projects we would have to defer, the skate park was one of the ones on the list, and that was the only item that we heard any complaints from anybody about it being deferred. Nobody cared about any of the other things, but the skatepark did come up on more than one occasion that that was a disappointment to the public.”
Gubatayao proposed using a half million dollars of American Rescue Plan Act funds to help pay down the borough’s approximately $1.1 million health insurance deficit. She explained federal relief funds can be used to pay for claims related to COVID-19.
“It doesn’t mean the claim was specifically for COVID-19, but there was a COVID-19 code associated with it. Through October 3rd, the borough’s side of the plan has incurred $511,000.”
Following the work session, the Assembly directed staff to prepare resolutions accepting the federal funds, incorporate a list of new and postponed projects into the borough’s capital plan and bring forward budget amendments for the current fiscal year to get the projects started. The $5.4 million has to be allocated by 2024 and spent by 2026.
At its next meeting on Monday, Ketchikan’s Borough Assembly will consider appropriating $1.3 million for a long list of projects, including the skatepark roof, trail, playground and rec center repairs, fire hall improvements and a new sewer-cleaning truck. If approved, the projects would come back for a public hearing in mid-November.
Also at the October 19 meeting, a proposal to change an agreement between developer Harlan Heaton and the borough for purchasing lots in the Mountain Point subdivision did not pass for lack of a motion. The agreement would have allowed Heaton to purchase 18 borough lots for $10 each. That deal also required Heaton to purchase nearby lots from the Alaska Mental Health Trust in order to build a road and utility corridors for the subdivision. But Heaton was outbid for the Mental Health parcels during a public auction.
Several assembly members, including Judith McQuerry, encouraged Heaton to continue working with borough planning staff and the new land owners in developing the subdivision.
“If Mr. Heaton could work with the new owners of the former Mental Health Trust lots, and get the local improvement part accomplished, and get to a place where the improvements could be made to allow access to all of the lots, I would be very favorable to modifying the agreement. But that’s just my personal opinion.”
In addition, the Assembly unanimously adopted resolutions authorizing acceptance of state loans for a water tank in the Ravenwood area and South Tongass water system master plan. They will be brought back at the Assembly’s Nov. 1 meeting for public hearings.
The assembly also unanimously approved a dispatch service agreement with the City of Ketchikan that raises the amount of money borough residents contribute to the shared fire dispatch center. The new agreement shares costs on a per-call basis. Ketchikan city officials had previously complained the borough wasn’t paying its fair share.