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Boro endorses RR exemption: Fisheries tax, on-site pot consumption, school district spending also discussed

Daily News Staff Writer

The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly followed the recommended actions for all items on its agenda at Monday’s regular meeting.

The Assembly did not protest a pending on-site marijuana consumption endorsement for Cannabis Corner; it adopted a resolution regarding the Shared Fisheries Business Tax program; it increased the spending authority of the Ketchikan School District; and it moved to give the borough mayor the authority to sign a letter endorsing a Tongass exemption from the federal Roadless Rule.

Fisheries Business Tax Program

The Assembly adopted a resolution expressing its desire to apply for funding from the Shared Fisheries Business Tax program using an alternative method to allocate funds.

The program “shares fish taxes collected outside municipal boundaries to municipalities that can demonstrate they experienced significant effects from fisheries business activities,” according to an application form for the program.

Borough Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao said in a Friday phone interview with the Daily News that the borough expects to collect about $2,500 from the program this year — half of what it collected last year.

Cannabis Corner consumption

The Assembly decided not to protest a pending on-site marijuana consumption endorsement for Cannabis Corner, located at 9735 Mud Bay Road near Totem Bight State Historical Park.

Similar to Alaska's laws on alcohol licenses, local governments can review and protest pending applications to the Alaska Alcohol and Marijuna Control Office for marijuana licenses and on-site marijuana consumption endorsements. Local governments have 60 days to choose whether to protest the pending license once they have been notified of the application.

Borough Clerk Kacie Paxton said at Monday's meeting that AMCO notified the borough of the pending request for an on-site marijuana consumption endorsement on Dec. 6.

The Assembly voted 5–2 to not protest the pending endorsement, with Assembly members Alan Bailey and Susan Pickrell voting in favor of protest.

Bailey and Pickrell said their opposition was motivated by public safety concerns and concerns with the location of the business. Pickrell asked the owners of the business, Kanoe and Ayme Zantua, whether they would be able to tell whether a customer would be too impaired to safely get home from the store.

The owners responded that while they would not be able to determine whether a customer's driving ability would be impaired by their cannabis consumption, the business would be open during the operating hours for the taxi companies in the area. The owners also said that Cannabis Corner's proximity to a bus stop would help curb unsafe driving.

Pickrell and Bailey said they still did not feel comfortable with the on-site consumption license.

Bailey said the risk was too great.

"There will be people ... that do not use wisdom and ... (do) not notice (their impairment) sufficient enough, and do drive or walk, or whatever; they do become impaired," Bailey said. "Impaired drivers kill too many people in our community, and ... around this state."

Pickrell echoed Bailey's remark: "I absolutely believe that ... if somebody was intoxicated you wouldn't let them leave. The biggest concern that I have is just that people ... may come already under the influence, and there's no way for you to know that. There truly isn't any way. And while the amount of marijuana that you would be selling to them on-site, and have using on-site may not be ... a significant amount, it still is impossible to say how that is going to affect them, and how soon it would affect them and all those things."

Bailey also referenced a recent referendum on on-site cannabis consumption in the City of Ketchikan.

Though Cannabis Corner lies outside Ketchikan city limits, on-site cannabis consumption was an issue up for consideration in the city's October municipal elections. Ballot Proposition 1 would have banned on-site consumption of marijuana for retailers within city limits. It failed, with 796 votes opposing the ban and 657 in favor of it.

Bailey emphasized Monday that allowing on-site consumption was not a universal attitude in the borough.

"There is still continued opposition to this industry, and that just because there was (an) overall vote, we are a democracy and that's the way it works," Bailey said. "But that doesn't mean that the people who are opposed to that don't have concerns or should be silenced."

Assembly Member David Landis referred to Bailey's comment about democracy in explaining why he would be voting to not protest the pending license.

"This is a legal industry in the State of Alaska, and this is a legal activity that is conducted under Alaska law," Landis said. "I may agree with it, may not agree with it, but as Mr. Bailey said, this is a democracy, not only locally but in the state and within the nation we are bound by laws that we have to uphold. ... Right now, at this juncture, it seems to me that we would be dancing with ... the threat of a lawsuit ... if we denied something that was legal ... using arbitrary and capricious rationale."

School District spending

Also at Monday’s meeting, the Assembly agreed to increase the spending authority of the Ketchikan School District by $1,015,588 for the 2020 fiscal year.

The Ketchikan School Board decided to increase the district's budget by $798,753 at its Dec. 11 meeting.

District Business Manager Katie Parrott explained at Monday's meeting that the vast majority of that budget increase came from an update to the district's student count, which earned the district an additional $610,197 from the Alaska Department of Education.

Pickrell expressed reservations about the size of the spending authority increase. She asked Interim Superintendent Beth Lougee whether the district had considered not using the additional money and instead giving it back to the state. Lougee said it had not.

Pickrell also asked Gubatayao whether increasing the district's spending authority would cause property taxes in the borough to increase. Gubatayao said it would not.

The Assembly unanimously voted to increase the spending authority for the district.

Roadless Rule

The Assembly authorized Borough Mayor Rodney Dial to sign a letter supporting the total exemption of the Tongass National Forest from the federal Roadless Rule. The borough will join other Southeast municipalities and organizations that signed the letter, including the City of Ketchikan, the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce and the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

Landis remarked: “As (Mayor Rodney Dial) noted, (a Roadless Rule exemption for the Tongass) is a longstanding priority of the borough. It’s a long time coming and there’s a good possibility that there could be an exemption based on letters like this.”

In October 2018, the Assembly adopted a resolution in favor of a Tongass exemption from the Roadless Rule. The resolution expressed that "the State of Alaska has continuously litigated the 2001 Roadless Rule with the support of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough."

The Assembly voted 6–1 in favor of the authorization. Assembly Member Austin Otos voted against it.

Otos explained his decision in an interview with the Daily News after the meeting. Otos said he received about six calls from constituents before Monday's meeting urging him to vote against the motion.

“I come from a family that are loggers," Otos said. "My dad moved up here in ‘81 to log. I just don’t see the feasibility of continuing that now. We don’t have the infrastructure now to handle the wood that’s coming through. A lot of this stuff is being exported to Asian markets and out of state, so I don’t see the huge economic benefit that’s being promised to the people here. … I would rather us transition to a young growth alternative rather than … going back to old growth.”

He continued: “I’m not against logging, I’m just against this false hope (that) somehow getting rid of this roadless rule is going to bring back jobs and prosperity to this area. I just don’t see that as economically viable.”

Remembering Williams

At Monday's meeting, the Assembly paid tribute to former City of Ketchikan Mayor Lew Williams III, who died on Saturday.

The meeting began with an observation of silence for his passing. During the additional comment period at the end of the meeting, Assembly members shared fond memories of Williams, and expressed their condolences for his passing.