The Ketchikan City Council in its regular meeting Thursday evening voted to move $662,021 in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding back from the city General Fund Reserves to the Residential Mortgage and Rent Assistance program in order to aid community members.
The vote was 5-1, with Council Member Abby Bradberry dissenting and Council Member Judy Zenge absent.
Bradberry explained prior to the vote that she did not agree with the motion because she felt the entire $1.8 million, of which $1.2 million had been expended by the city in the budget process on paying first responder salary costs incurred during the pandemic, should be returned instead to assistance programs, such as the mortgage and rent assistance program, for the community.
Council Member Mark Flora, however, explained why he supported the decision the council made to pay for the first responder salaries and to use the leftover funds to reinstate the community assistance program.
"When we went into this budget cycle, I stated my goals," Flora said. "...Preservation of jobs and uninterrupted services. Not very glamorous, not real showy stuff. We didn't lay anybody off, we have a status quo budget, we've abandoned a lot of capital projects. We should be able to keep the lights on, we left 10 positions vacant."
He went on to point out that, in 2020, more than one million people in the country that worked for municipalities had been laid off during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The City of Ketchikan laid off zero. That is community support," he said.
Also at Thursday's meeting, council members heard a presentation by representatives of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority about the Ketchikan Shipyard, and an update on the Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain mapping project by Ketchikan Gateway Borough Planning and Community Development Director Richard Harney.
In the public comment portion of the meeting, Tongass Trading Company General Manager Chris Parks spoke to an item on the council's agenda regarding the upcoming decision to hire a Port and Harbors director in the wake of former director Steve Corporon's retirement in August.
Parks emphasized the need to split that position into two roles: one for the harbors and one to focus on the port.
"We need to take our time, we need to keep that person focused," he said.
Parks also asserted that the cruise industry was going to come back slowly, with 2021 looking dim as far as Ketchikan visitor numbers are looking, giving the city time to consider what kind of role the new port director would fulfill.
There also was discussion at the meeting about the lack of information currently concerning the resumption of cruising.
Council Member Sam Bergeron said, "I think one of the things I'm seeing with this issue exactly is that the CDC is not coming out with any kind of guidelines or criteria for the cruise ships or the cruise industry to work from. I think the clock is ticking here and every day that we're sitting around and we're not getting any direction from the governing bodies of what we need to do is ridiculous. They should be giving us some idea of 'these are the minimum things that we're looking for in general' even if they can't come up with what they're looking for exactly."
Bergeron suggested that the council create a resolution to write a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ask that the CDC expedite clear directions to allow the cruise industry and the port communities that they visit to create clear plans and protocols to resume operations.
Council Member Janalee Gage said that they need to be careful to not just plan for a full normal cruise season, but to plan for what is likely to be a greatly reduced season with fewer and smaller vessels calling at the port.
Amylon said that, after talking with cruise representatives and other Southeast communities, he expects the 2021 season to be very slow.
"It's going to be another tough year," Amylon said. "I hope I'm wrong."
He lined out the debt obligations of the city that could grow increasingly burdensome on the city if the 2021 season does turn out to be dismal.
Ketchikan Visitors Bureau President and CEO Patti Mackey spoke to the council at Thursday's meeting, and described the formation of the Resource Committee and its work groups that have been working on the issues surrounding the possible resumption of the cruise season during the ongoing pandemic.
In a letter written by Mackey and attached to Thursday's meeting agenda, she outlined how the Resource Committee was formed and how the four work groups created were chosen. She also listed the members of the main committee, as well as those on the first work group formed to address "community/destinations practices and protocols."
Other work groups that are planned are, Health: screening and exposure reduction; Environment: port operations and controls; and Response and contingency planning in the event of a COVID incident.
A public Facebook group titled "Ready! Reset! Go!" has been set up to share meeting notes, information and to act as a forum for community input and questions.
In response to Council Member Bradberry's statement that she wanted to make sure that community members were able to listen in on the committee and the work group meetings, Mackey said that the groups really had been not able to make many decisions yet with the lack of information and direction from the federal government and cruise line groups.
Bradberry emphasized that even if that is the case, that community members want to be able to listen to what the people in those committees are talking about, even if it is not of great import.
Council Member Dave Kiffer and Council Member Riley Gass agreed and said that allowing public access is about building trust.
The meeting was ongoing at press time, but there will be an article in an upcoming edition of the Ketchikan Daily News covering the remaining portion of Thursday's Council meeting.