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3/18/2017
Borough cuts on the agenda

By NICK BOWMAN

Daily News Staff Writer

Across-the-board cuts to departments and several fee increases but no general tax increases are being proposed to clear a deficit of more than $700,000 for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough.

In a work session during their regular Monday meeting, Borough Assembly members will hear a proposal to clear the upcoming deficit that includes fare increases for the bus system and parks and recreation along with cuts that will mean reduced levels of service in most departments.

School funding from the borough would remain flat from last year, according to the proposed budget, but the fate of the fund is less clear than others in the borough. Property taxes remain unchanged, but state funding could be cut this year depending on action in the Alaska Legislature. Meanwhile, it’s too soon to tell what kind of revenue the borough can expect from its new tobacco tax, which went into effect in January.

The borough transit system is proposing charging $2 for walk-on bus fares instead of its current $1, said Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao. Meanwhile, the Gateway Recreation and Aquatic centers are proposing several fee increases and cuts to expensive or under-used programs.

The centers would close two hours early in June, July and August, according to a report included in the agenda item, and free tours for preschools and free swims would be cut. Reductions in lifeguard spending could see people turned away from the pool if too many people arrive at once.

No layoffs are included in the budget, but several departments are using attrition to cut positions and restructure, Gubatayao said on Friday.

General property taxes are unchanged in the proposed budget, which the finance director said could be adopted by the Assembly as a “realistic, achievable projection” of the borough’s coming year.

As a whole, the budget represents a 4.5 percent cut to borough operations, according to Gubatayao, but some reductions to individual departments go much further. General government — finance, assessment, planning and code enforcement — could see a cut of 7 percent. Animal protection is looking at 5.2 percent, while recreation would see an 18.1 percent reduction in general fund support (cash that doesn’t come from user fees). Public works would see more cruise ship head tax dollars and a 10.9 percent cut in general fund cash.

Transit would see a 27.4 percent cut in general fund dollars, meaning all but 4 percent of its total budget would come from federal funding (the largest portion by far) or bus fares.

Also on Monday, the Assembly will hear an update on the Alaska Mental Health Trust-U.S. Forest Service land exchange and weigh in on a proposed marijuana cultivation facility in the borough.

Paul Slenkamp, the mental health trust’s Ketchikan-based resource manager, will talk to the Assembly about the trust’s effort to trade approximately 18,000 of its acres — the amount increased after a deal was reached that would remove a trust-owned parcel in Sitka from the exchange — for 20,000 acres owned by the Forest Service.

The Forest Service land would be used to generate cash for trust grants to mental health beneficiaries. Most of the land is timber land on Prince of Wales Island.

Assembly members are set to vote on whether they should oppose a state marijuana license being given to Christopher Wilhelm for Sparkly Farms Alaska, a cultivation facility at 218 Kelly Drive on the north side of the bridge in Ward Cove.

The application is going before the Alaska Marijuana Control Board at its April 5 meeting, according to a letter from the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.

There are three public hearings on Monday’s agenda:

• Ordinance 1824 would correct minor errors in the borough’s subdivision code.

• Ordinance 1826 would remove most of the borough’s code related to concession stands with conditional use permits. The code largely relates to cruise ship concessionaires, and the change would leave the stands up to the City of Ketchikan.

• Ordinance 1827 would reduce the public notice requirements of the borough as part of its budget reduction effort.

There will be time for public comment close to the start of the 5:30 p.m. meeting at 1900 First Ave.