The Ketchikan City Council in its regular meeting Thursday approved each of the motions on its agenda unanimously, including motions to defer a joint resolution to oppose a proposed state sales tax bill, to hire a local construction company to complete a $6.6 million water line project, and to declare an aging Ketchikan Fire Department ladder truck and fire boat, the Harry Newell, as surplus property.
Council Members Judy Zenge and Sam Bergeron were absent.
The proposed joint resolution with the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and City of Saxman opposing a statewide sales tax was rejected by the Borough Assembly in its meeting Monday.
City Council members decided to defer the resolution to give them time watch how the tax bills that have been proposed by state legislators would shape up.
Council Member Abby Bradberry said she wanted to defer the resolution because "I think we should be addressing all the tax increases that they're looking at and try to encourage (them) to look for different options."
Council Member Riley Gass said he was in favor of deferring the resolution because he wanted the option to speak up to oppose all state taxes instead.
Also during the meeting, the council approved offering a contract to BAM construction to replace the Schoenbar Road raw water transmission main, which has repeatedly failed due to aging.
The declaration of the fire department truck as surplus property was passed without discussion, but the decision to put the Harry Newell up for auction spurred some discussion.
In a recent professionally conducted assessment of the fire boat, its condition was found to be too degraded to be worth repairing. The hull has extensive pitting, the pumps need to be replaced and the engines are worn out.
Bradberry said that the next step is to assess what the city's waterfront firefighting needs really are before deciding that a replacement boat should be purchased. She suggested that alternatives possibly could be considered, such as relying on the U.S. Coast Guard vessels or private tug boats.
Council Member Dave Kiffer agreed that a study needed to be done, but cautioned the logic that since the fire boat had been rarely deployed, that it would not be needed in the future.
"We've been very fortunate over the last decade or so," he said. "I don't want to be sitting here four or five years from now, or whatever that time is, when we find we need it and we don't have it. We've had some pretty spectacular fires over the years ... we are a waterfront community."
He added: "Before we rush to save lots of money and figure out some way to put some sort of pump on a barge somewhere and tow it around, we've got to make sure that that's going to actually work and that it will be effective when we need it, and fire boats have been very important in this town's history over the years. In fact, without fire boats, we probably wouldn't be here, so let's be careful on this one, folks."
Council Member Janalee Gage agreed with Kiffer and related her own experience with a serious accident years ago which was made more difficult because the fire department didn't have the equipment needed to extricate her efficiently. That equipment could have made a dramatic difference in her rescue, even though it could be argued that the equipment is extraneous because it rarely is needed.
Council Member Mark Flora reminded council members that the Harry Newell was originally being assessed for use as an interim solution while a needs study was conducted. A temporary "fill-in-the-gap" measure still could be implemented by keeping the Newell working in some capacity, he argued. He echoed Kiffer's assertion that the community does need waterfront firefighting capability.
The motion to declare the fire boat as surplus also included direction to conduct a study to assess the community's waterfront firefighting needs.
There also was quite a bit of discussion during the meeting concerning issues of community members who are experiencing homelessness and who also have been acting in unsanitary and unlawful ways in the city.
The discussion was spurred by two locals who stepped up to the podium during the public comment section in the early part of the meeting.
Silvia Greuter listed problems at the parking lot near Grant Street, in which people have been living in junked vehicles. Problems have included the theft of construction tools from multiple parties, as well as many instances of illegal drug use and sales, trash accumulation and the campers using the lot area as a toilet "in full view" of the neighbors who live nearby.
She said that when she had conversations with Ketchikan Police Department officers, they explained that they were unable to solve the problem due to a lack of clear signage and ordinances to allow them to take action.
Gage said "the community or the neighborhood has been through a lot, and it just is getting worse and worse."
She also mentioned that there is a safety issue with people camping on the steep cliff alongside that area.
Kiffer asked if an ordinance was needed to erect a "No Camping" sign in areas such as that parking lot.
Bradberry emphasized the need for controlling the criminal behaviors that have been increasing in all areas of downtown, as she personally, as well as her coworkers, have experienced harassment when leaving work.
City of Ketchikan Mayor Bob Sivertsen said a downtown woman business owner also related her own experiences to him about being chased and harassed by individuals in the downtown area.
Later in the meeting, City Attorney Mitch Seaver said that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that homelessness may not be criminalized unless there are alternative living spaces available for those individuals.
He added however, that actual criminal acts can be prosecuted, but those described during the meeting can be difficult to catch.
Flora echoed that statement when he said, "Signs are easy, enforcement is hard because whatever's put in place is going to impact the police department and is going to be another discussion about staffing levels and priority of calls. Mitigation is difficult. Displacement is not a solution."
Sivertsen agreed, and asked Acting City Manager Lacey Simpson if staff would research ordinances that already are on the books and bring the information back for council review as a starting point.
Simpson also noted that First City Homeless Services is targeting Oct. 24 as the opening date for the Overnight Warming Center downtown.
A meeting with council members, city staff and representatives who work with the homeless population to discuss opioid addiction and homelessness is scheduled for 6 p.m., Oct 14 at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.