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11/24/2012
Weigh in

The economy will be a guiding factor as the Ketchikan City Council begins to review the 2013 draft budget on Monday.

Prepared by city officials, the $108.7 million budget includes a total of $30.3 million in various reserve accounts. The proposed budget would require a $5.87 million draw from its total reserves.

The proposed budget calls for maintaining the current personnel and workload. Step increases are accounted for, but no cost of living increases are in the budget.

The budget projects a 10-percent increase in health insurance premiums, beginning July 1, which is only one of several increases budgeted. These days every increase is a challenge, particularly to the public. In addition to paying for increased health care costs for city employees, the public would be asked to pay higher rates for water and wastewaster disposal. Water rates would increase 5 percent and wastewater 10 percent.

The property tax mill rate would climb from 6.2 to 7.2. City officials say the increase is necessary to pay for the increased cost of personnel and $846,491 toward debt on the new fire station and library. The city also would transfer $486,947 from the fire station bond construction account to the general obligation bond debt service fund.

The mill rate increase also would help to replace the raw fish tax, which will be used for harbor improvements instead of city operations.

The increase also would help the city to maintain its reserves, critical to maintaining a good bond rating.

The increase means the city would collect $7.20 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. For a home valued at $250,000, that would be an increase of $250.

As a result of the increase, the city would collect about $816,600 to be used to repay reserves.

Meanwhile, the city anticipates a 1-percent increase in 2013 assessed property values and a 2-percent increase over 2012's estimated sales tax revenue. The latter figures will be adjusted as this year ends.

It also expects to receive $2.1 million in state head tax funds as a result of about 840,000 cruise ship passengers visiting Ketchikan next tourist season.

City officials also point out a couple issues in the draft budget for the Council to consider. Among them is a package of city harbors improvements, which likely will require local matches to state grants. Officials maintain this will require a 7-percent increase in harbor rates for every $1 million the city might be confronted with for these improvements. The city already plans to borrow $1.25 million from the economic development and parking fund for the proposed drive-down ramp at Bar Harbor; raw fish tax funds from the state might be used to help repay that loan.

The city also has concerns with its storm water collection system and funding improvements. About $7 million in improvements are necessary over the next five years. The public works sales tax fund will cover the $198,000 needed in 2013. The Council will need to look at ways to fund the balance.

Additionally, the city has six bond issues on which it will pay $4.7 million in 2013. The issues date back to the early 1990s, covering port, hospital, wastewater, fire station and library projects. The city has a remaining balance of $34 million on a 2006 port bond; the highest of the other bonds is $6.7 million in 2010 for the fire station. The total balance for bonds is $51 million.

City officials point out that the city has done better than other cities during the recession. Housing maintained its value, which meant no devastating drop in property taxes. Plus, high fuel prices, along with an improving tourism industry, contributed to higher sales taxes. Of course, the city also had to pay higher fuel prices and invest in infrastructure to maintain and expand the industry.

The budget narrative presents the picture of a slowly growing economy. It points out that the growth would be affected by national and world financial activities. But aside from that, the community has potential in Ketchikan Shipyard acquiring the contracts to build a complement of Alaska Class Ferries over the next eight to 10 years. There also is the development of the Niblack metals mine on Prince of Wales, which might mean as many as 80 jobs in Ketchikan where an ore processing facility might be located. The mine itself could employ as many as 130, with a construction date of 2015. It also takes into consideration the development of the Bokan Mountain mining project near Ketchikan. Rare earth metals would be extracted there.

Discussion of the budget and outlook for the future begins 7 p.m. Monday in City Council chambers. Time is scheduled for public comment.

The Council has until Dec. 29 to finalize the budget. It undoubtedly would like to finish early this holiday season.