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8/7/2017
Boro to talk pot, grants

By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer

Monday’s Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly meeting is likely to revolve around two key issues: Grants and pot.

During the Assembly's most recent meeting on July 17, Assembly members discussed how to supplant the ever-dwindling economic development fund. The fund has provided grants to a number of groups and community organizations in the past. Those groups include a number of arts organizations.

Assembly members recently rejected a plan to create an ad-hoc committee to evaluate how to fix the shrinking fund. Instead, they directed Borough Manager Ruben Duran to evaluate the economic development fund, weigh the available options, and consider new taxes on marijuana to finance it.

In the previous meeting, Assembly Member John Harrington emphasized the fact that the fund in question was not sustainable.

“It comes down to we need to find some source of revenue,” Harrington said. “We’ve got to find something coming in from somewhere.”

And for some, that something appears to be the marijuana industry.

The Assembly is expected to break into a work session Monday to discuss how to fund these community grants. The summary on the agenda item illustrates the problem:

“The Economic Development Fund (EDF) has had no revenue source for several years, and the fund balance has been declining,” the agenda item reads. “For FY 2018, the EDF is able to support the senior transportation subsidy ($179,650), grants ($302,575) and the SBDC office rent ($22,917). Including administrative fees, the total FY 2018 appropriations are $523,297. The anticipated balance available for funding FY 2019 programs is only $350,000.”

It appears as though the main plan the Assembly has in considering raising funds is to create a 10 percent excise tax on marijuana in the borough. The Assembly is expected to consider this at Monday’s meeting.

The recommended action is Ordinance 1839, which would establish “a new chapter levying an area-wide excise tax of 10 percent on marijuana and marijuana products with a credit for City of Ketchikan tax payments,” according to the agenda. If the Assembly approves the ordinance in first reading Monday, there would be a public hearing on Aug. 21.

This is not the first time the borough discussed levying new taxes on pot. In July and Aug. of 2016, similar ordinances were brought before the Assembly, which ultimately failed.

It is not yet clear how much support that discussion of the ordinance will get, but those on the Assembly made it very clear at the last meeting that something needed to be done, or a number of community grant projects may be at risk.

Also on Monday’s agenda, the Assembly will:

• Hear from Ketchikan Public Library Director Pat Tully and get an update on the library.

• Decide whether to accept the donation of a 1995 Nissan Super Vac fire vehicle from the Ketchikan Fire Department.

• Vote on whether to authorize a grant for the Esther Shea track and field grandstand cover project.

• Consider a $32,502 purchase of elevated bleachers from Schultz Industries for Esther Shea Field.

• Consider the purchase a new 2018 Chevrolet Suburban for $44,157 for the South Tongass Volunteer Fire Department.

• Have a public hearing on adopting Ordinance 1835, amending prior ordinances authorizing the disposal method for certain tax foreclosed properties.

Monday’s meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly chambers, 1900 First Ave.

There will be time for public comment at the beginning of the meeting.