Ketchikan’s borough assembly plans to set aside money in next year’s budget to ease a housing crunch in Ketchikan.

During a budget work session last Monday, Assembly Member A.J. Pierce suggested raising borough sales taxes by half a cent for the purpose of developing land.

“To perhaps develop the land that we already own for, I don’t know, an RV park of something like that,” she said.”

Assistant Borough Manager Cynna Gubatayao says raising the tax would require a public vote.

She says a presentation is planned for April to discuss some of the short, medium and long-term housing solutions. As an example, she said short-term might be considering regulating vacation rentals.

A medium-term solution, Gubatayo says, could be opening up access to existing subdivisions.

“Do we have a way to get a road in there perhaps and get the rest of those parcels opened up? Those are parcels that are already in private ownership but the people don’t have access to them,” Gubatayao said.

She says a long-term solution would be to create new borough subdivisions, possibly partnering with Ketchikan Indian Community or Alaska Housing Finance Corporation.

Assembly member Jeremy Bynum says getting more land into private ownership might also alleviate the need for property tax rate increases.

Gubatayo says the borough recently received $7.2 million in federal pandemic relief funds, which can be used to replace revenue lost during the pandemic. She recommends the borough use some of the cash to free up money to address the community’s housing shortage.

“If we’re able to free up resources, rather than leave them in the general fund where we’re perhaps prone to use them on the most urgent need, then I would suggest that we identify a number for a housing subdivision project, whatever this looks like, and move it into a construction fund or a dedicated fund where it stays for a few years while we work this out. Because these are not one-year projects,” Gubatayao said.

The assembly unanimously approved to set aside an unspecified amount in the 2023 budget to help ease the housing situation. Assembly member Austin Otos was absent.

In other business, Ketchikan’s borough is looking into electrifying some of its fleet with federal funding. The borough isn’t going full steam ahead on electric buses – it’s actually scheduled to receive five new diesel buses later this year. But the borough’s transit manager, Leslie Jackson, told the assembly that they’re looking into federal funding for electric vehicles. She says the application deadline is at the end of April, but they won’t be purchasing electric buses anytime soon.

“But there’s no money for diesel buses in the immediate future. There’s money for these types of buses. So we thought we’d just explore and evaluate all the details around applying for those.”

Jackson also told the assembly about the proposed vision for the future of Ketchikan’s borough-run transit system.

The Transit Center Master Plan includes expanding the borough’s maintenance facility to handle anticipated growth in tourist traffic and centralizing paratransit. The borough’s nonprofit paratransit provider currently operates out of Saxman.

Finally, a power and telecommunications cable between Ketchikan and Metlakatla is moving forward. The assembly approved an easement near Mountain Point to Metlakatla Power and Light for a submarine fiber optic cable. In a letter to the borough mayor, Metlakatla Indian Community Mayor Albert Smith writes that the link will improve the reliability and quality of electric and communications services on Annette Island.