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By ZACHARY HALASCHAK
Daily News Staff Writer
“Godspeed,” said Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly Member Felix Wong on Monday as the Assembly voted to approve a number of federal policy issue statements for an upcoming advocacy trip.
Each year Assembly representative(s) — in addition to the borough mayor and borough manager — travel to Washington, D.C., to advocate for the borough on federal issues.
This year, Borough Mayor David Landis, Assembly Member Rodney Dial and Borough Manager Ruben Duran will be taking part in the annual fly-in.
While there, the three will meet with Alaska’s congressional delegation, as well as federal entities such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The borough’s policy committee helped draw up the federal policy issue statements, which are available in full on the borough’s website.
Some of the issues that will be discussed are: The Endangered Species Act, U.S. Coast Guard contracting, the “Cadillac Tax,” Payment in Lieu of Taxes Program, sea otter management, Alaska Mental Health Trust land exchange, homeporting the NOAA ship Fairweather in Ketchikan, Secure Rural Schools funding and FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program.
Dial said he was initially reticent to attend, citing costs to the borough, but said he was looking forward to advocating for issues crucial to the Ketchikan community.
“I’ve never traveled for the borough yet, I care about every taxpayer dollar,” Dial said. “But it was suggested to me — and it kind of changed my mind — that the amount of money that we’re talking about for this borough, that if we make even small gains on even one or two of these areas, the return on investment for our community far exceeds our costs.”
One area of particular interest to the borough is that of FEMA’s flood insurance program. The group is going to advocate for a one-year extension of the appeal process, in addition to requesting that FEMA come out and “ground truth” the properties included in the new flood maps.
Dial said if a one-year postponement were awarded, it could save the borough $2 million.
“I’m going to make the statement that ‘requiring one of the wettest spots on earth to buy flood insurance when we never flood, would be like requiring people in South Dakota to buy hurricane insurance,’” Dial said
Duran explained that the trip would be a lot of work, and that those in attendance would be quite busy.
“We have our appointments set, it’s a very intense two days,” Duran said. “… It’s a very quick-paced set of meetings, … you walk out of one, get in a vehicle, go, and 45 minutes later you’re in another state and another meeting — because they're not all located in D.C.”
After Monday's meeting, Duran told the Daily News that most of the topics being discussed were the same issues brought forward at last spring’s fly-in.
He noted the perennial issues of Secure Rural Schools funding and the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program as being of great importance to not only Alaska, but also other rural Western states.
“It’s a group effort on PILT and SRS,” Duran said, noting that a number of other boroughs and counties have similar policy positions. “Those are important funding areas.”
Dial raised the possibility of a meeting not just with Alaska’s legislative delegation, but also with the executive branch. He said that there is even an effort to get a meeting with President Trump.
“Lo and behold we have now filled out a background check to possibly visit the White House,” Dial said. “… It’s a long shot, but you know what? Even people win the lottery sometimes.”
All on the Assembly were supportive of the trip, and expressed their hopes that some action would come from the meetings.
“I wish you every success,” Assembly Member Judith McQuerry said. “I hope we get everything we want.”
Also Monday, the Assembly voted to introduce two ordinances to be set for public hearings on March 19.
The first ordinance — the first reading of which passed unanimously — adds a supplemental appropriation for $106,953 from the borough’s general fund for costs relating to retirements/resignations of borough employees who had accrued large amounts of personal time off.
“Typically, this practice does not cause budget issues, however, the total combined PTO payout due to the six departing employees is $104,053, or 2.3 percent of general fund wages,” Monday’s agenda item reads.
In addition, the Assembly voted to set a public hearing for the appropriation of $60,000 from the borough’s Land Trust Fund to be used for a housing needs assessment.
The two appropriations were originally combined into one ordinance, but were separated through a motion by Assembly Member A.J. Pierce to be considered as separate public hearings.
There was initial discussion among the Assembly that it might be worth postponing the housing needs assessment until after borough knows whether or not it will get the requested one-year delay from FEMA, a factor that might affect housing in the community.
Assembly Member Alan Bailey, who spoke telephonically, said that he thought it would be wise to wait, explaining that he disagreed as a matter of principle, but understood the need for the assessment.
“I do not believe there is any emergent need to make such a fairly costly investment at this time,” Bailey said. “I think once we have more information from other sources, that we can make better decisions.”
Assembly Member Susan Pickrell disagreed, noting that there are a number of folks in the community who are having trouble finding and maintaining housing.
“I think there is an urgent need just because of the people that I know, who are in dire straits for a need for housing,” Pickrell explained. “… At this point I think we should just move forward with it.”
Ultimately the Assembly voted 5-1 to bring the measure forward for a public hearing on March 19.
Also during Monday’s meeting, the Assembly:
• Heard a report from Ketchikan School District Superintendent Bob Boyle.
• Listened to a proclamation congratulating members of Ketchikan High School’s academic decathlon team, which recently won the state championship — the first team from Southeast Alaska to do so.
• Heard reports from the borough manager and the borough mayor.
The next Assembly Meeting will be on March 19.