In the last half of the Ketchikan City Council’s four-hour meeting Thursday evening, the council unanimously voted to retain a 6.6 mill property tax rate; voted by a show of four hands to direct staff to start the process required to donate an empty lot on Bawden Street to the Park Avenue Temporary Home shelter; unanimously voted to spend $30,000 to create a temporary parking lot at the same location, and discussed port access by commercial operators.
Property tax rate
The council, in its May 19 meeting, rejected a proposed 0.5 mill raise in property taxes, and Thursday’s vote simply was the legally required action to confirm the 6.6 mill rate. 
The council also unanimously approved several budget transfers related to that action.
The budget transfers were necessary with the mill rate kept at 6.6, because the 2022 budget was built with a property tax raise to 7.1 mills.
“The council’s decision to keep the mill rate at 6.6 mills will reduce the general fund revenue (by) an estimated $467,163,” City Finance Director Michelle Johansen wrote in a memo attached to the council’s meeting agenda. 
Bawden Street property
The empty lot on Bawden Street, where a hospital used to be located, has been a topic of conversation several times during council meetings in the past year.
At the council’s April 7 meeting, Council Member Mark Flora requested that a discussion concerning the use of the site be held in a future meeting. He suggested that the council consider donating the property to the Park Avenue Temporary Home for the purpose of building a new shelter.
The existing shelter building is 80 years old, PATH director Ty Rettke said, and is in dire need of replacement and expansion.
Council Member Jai Mahtani said of a recent tour that he took through the existing PATH facility, “the building that they have now, that they live in … is not even fit for animals. I went in there, and I cried coming out.”
Rettke spoke to the council about a federal grant that the shelter recently applied for that could garner $6.9 million to build a new facility. He said that an important component of consideration for receiving the grant would be proven community support for a new shelter building to be built.
Donation of the lot to the nonprofit organization would serve as that proven support, Rettke said. He added that the shelter has been successfully operating since 1988, and the longevity and proven track record of the organization also would be key to proving it is worthy of a federal grant. 
Council Member Abby Bradberry asked Rettke whether there were other surplus properties that the city plans to divest itself of in the next year that would work for a new PATH building. 
Rettke explained that the other properties are either in a poor location for PATH clients, who need nearby bus access and other services, or they are unimproved properties which would greatly add to the expense of building on them. The Bawden lot already has utilities, it is zoned for commercial use and fits all the needs that PATH has. 
Council Member Riley Gass voiced his concern over the other motion on the agenda — to spend $30,000 on building the temporary parking lot — when the property might later be donated. 
Council Member Mark Flora stated that he felt the cost would “amortize well” over the year or so that it would be used before PATH might take possession. The parking lot decision was in response to Park Avenue residents speaking about the severe lack of parking in their neighborhood. 
Flora and Council Member Janalee Gage also pointed out that creation of the lot would give the city more time to figure out a more permanent solution for parking in the area, as well.
Gage also spoke in support of a new, larger PATH facility that could address the housing shortage in town, especially assisting the disabled, the elderly and families in need. 
She also spoke of the success that Juneau has had with their Housing First project, in which people are given rooms, and they all work to help in the communal kitchen. The people while living there “became engaged,” she said. They begin to feel secure and are able to heal mentally, socially and physically.
She also said that she was told that the cost to the community in emergency care fell by 98% after the facility opened.
Council Member Judy Zenge addressed the question of why the shelter must be located downtown, and echoed Rettke’s words, in saying that downtown is where unhoused people live — “that’s where they go,” she said. 
Council Member Flora said that in a perfect world, the building would be multi-use, rather than only a shelter.
Rettke said, “the building I’m proposing is fairly multi-use.” It would have up to 10 housing units, and would offer parking. Extra parking to help the Park Avenue residents also could be part of the design.
Council Member Gass said that he had heard concern from community members that it didn’t seem fair that some people might get access to new apartments free of charge while others work hard to support their families. 
Rettke said that the housing portion and the sheltering portion of the new facility are proposed to be entirely separate. The shelter portion would offer dormitory conditions with small, shared rooms, which wouldn’t be equivalent to receiving a free apartment. 
“Those folks are generally the ones who end up in the worst situations,” Rettke said, such as at the emergency room or the jail, and keeping them safe is paramount.
Those living in the apartments would be living under strict nationally-created protocols and rules to support them in the healthiest ways possible to allow the tenants to get on their feet. Their rooms would be paid for through a voucher system to offset the cost.
Rettke said that by June 22 he needs firm commitment from the city that the lot is intended to be donated to PATH, as part of the organization’s federal grant application.
After the four-hands vote to start the process to donate the lot, City Attorney Mitch Seaver agreed to set the first steps in motion to formally commit the lot to PATH’s possession so that the city could show clear intention to support the grant process by the June 22 date.
Following that vote, and a short discussion, the motion to spend $30,000 to build a temporary parking lot on the empty Bawden property was unanimously approved.
Port Access
The next topic of discussion was brought to the agenda by Gass and Bradberry. 
Bradberry said that she was hoping for an update to the Ketchikan Municipal Code regarding port access passes. In a document attached to the meeting’s agenda, Bradberry noted her suggested changes.
Earlier in the meeting, four people spoke during public comment complaining that their properly permitted company motor vehicles had been turned away at Berth 3 when they attempted to transfer passengers from ships docked at Ward Cove to their tour vessels docked at the inside of Berth 3. 
The problems began when the city was negotiating with Ward Cove Group for the company’s request to allow shuttle buses to drop passengers downtown. When WCG declined the city’s financial request in return for the use of the port, conflicts arose when tour operators wanted to transfer passengers from Ward Cove at the downtown berths.  
Acting City Manager Lacey Simpson said that the problem has since been cleared up. By U.S. Coast Guard regulation, as long as the passengers are engaged in activity “with vessels that are moored at the port, and by the definition of the port — the inside float of Berth 3 is part of the port,” she said, the Ward Cove passengers can be transferred there.
Where the problem lies is that Ward Cove passengers cannot be dropped off at Berths 1, 2 or 3 for any activities that do not include activities on vessels moored there, such as passengers who want to take an upland tour, or who want to stroll and shop.
Ketchikan Mayor Dave Kiffer then referred to Bradberry’s proposal to edit the code as likely a necessary move, not only to make some of the changes she proposed, such as changing the language to reflect the longer seasons that now are common, but also to reflect the need to allow Ward Cove passengers better access. 
The council decided after discussion, by a four-hands vote, to allow Bradberry to discuss her proposed changes to the code with Seaver. 
The next regular meeting of the City Council is set for June 16.