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By SAM ALLEN
Daily News Staff Writer
Monday night saw a large turnout and upswing in debate over the City of Ketchikan budget, as proposed wastewater rates were raised six percent. More than 20 people, double the crowd of previous meetings, filled the Ketchikan City Council chambers at the third special budget meeting.
The Ketchikan City Council is in the midst of deliberating the proposed $64.7 million city municipal budget for the 2019 fiscal year that starts Jan. 1. The council is scheduled to approve a final budgt by Dec. 20.
Council members quickly got to work Monday, unanimously increasing the Public Works Solid Waste Salvage and Disposal-Impounded Property account by $30,000. This marks a nearly 45 percent increase over last years’ funding.
The increase was due to an estimate by Lenny Neeley, Solid Waste Division supervisor, to cover increasing vehicle disposal. About 20 more vehicles were disposed last year than the year before.
Next, the council enabled the Ketchikan Fire Department to acquire a new ladder truck.
Council Member Mark Flora put forward the motion to fully fund the requested fire truck since partial funding could be unreliable.
“I was told at one point there was half a million dollars set aside for this and it went somewhere else,” he said before pushing for full funding.
The council approved full funding for a $1.3 million fire truck, bringing annual lease payments for the new truck and other fire department equipment to $267,935. At the end of the lease, the department will own the truck.
The money for these payments comes out of the Public Works Sales Tax Fund.
Ketchikan Mayor Bob Sivertsen worried a new ladder truck would pose even more maneuverability challenges throughout Ketchikan. One of the fire trucks mentioned in a memo from the Fire Chief Abner Hoage was 46 feet long.
Hoage said that technology has made larger engines easier to move, and that both vendors he’s speaking with have been to Ketchikan and know the terrain.
“I would imagine that in the end we’ll have as least as much if not more maneuverability in all actuality then we currently have,” said Hoage.
After a lengthy debate over wastewater infrastructure issues, Council Member Sam Bergeron made a motion to increase wastewater rates six percent.
City Manager Karl Amylon said, “We’ve got to start, because if we don’t, people who succeed you down the line are gonna have a bigger problem than you’re confronting right now.”
Amylon said old and worn out infrastructure will continue to require higher maintenance costs until eventual replacement.
The Public Works Wastewater Division’s proposed 2019 budget includes roughly $1.4 million more in infrastructure maintenance than last year.
The council unanimously passed the motion to increase the wastewater fees by six percent, with the caveat that money from the rate increase be used only for wastewater infrastructure projects.
In 2011, a utility consultant firm, the FCS Group, did an analysis recommending rate increases of 12 percent annually beginning in 2013 and continuing through 2016, according to city information. A later, updated study recommended annual rate increases of six percent over eight years beginning in 2017.
However, the city’s actual percentage increases in annual wastewater rates since 2012 have totalled much less (see graph nearby) than the amount recommended by the FCS Group.
“The failure to raise rates as recommended by management and FCS will compromise the City’s ability to provide reliable wastewater utility services within the boundaries of the city,” stated Amylon’s budget transmittal memo to the City Council.
On Monday, Amylon said, “It’s probably something we’re never going to get current on, at least in my lifetime.”
A regularly scheduled city council meeting will be 7 p.m. Thursday. The next special budget meeting is Dec. 10.
At the end of the budget meeting last week, Flora added a last-minute item to this Thursday’s meeting. He wants to have a discussion about what to do with the old fire station on Main Street.
“It’s appalling. It’s not efficiently utilized,” Flora said.
The council discussed how the old fire station is just one of numerous city-owned buildings that have become more of a burden than an asset.
He pushed for the council to consider a few hundred dollars toward advertisements to inform the public of their opportunity to comment and share their opinion. The council obliged.