The Ketchikan City Council, in a regular meeting, Thursday is scheduled to consider approving changes to the Ketchikan Municipal Code addressing camping in parking lots, as part of an effort to make those areas safer and more sanitary. Other topics on the agenda include a potential reconsideration of a council vote regarding all-purpose vehicles, and discussions regarding the city's sales tax cap and a proposal to create a new city tourism manager position.

Parking lot camping

In the regular council meeting of Oct. 7, community members Silvia Greuter and John Stewart spoke to the council concerning problems caused by people camping in the parking lot located on the corner of Grant and Edmonds streets.

Greuter lives in that neighborhood, and Stewart said he is in the process of restoring a building there.

Greuter and Stewart both described increased incidences of thievery, illicit drug transactions, vandalism, garbage accumulation and other unsanitary conditions in that lot. Stewart said that up to six makeshift campers, some sitting on blocks with no wheels, had been lodged in the lot prior to that meeting.

Both Greuter and Stewart said they witnessed drug transactions occurring day and night among the people squatting in the lot.

Greuter said she had asked a Ketchikan Police Department officer what could be done to clean up the situation, and was told that the best approach was to speak to city leaders to ask that ordinances be created to allow for the creation of fine structures and the posting of signage prohibiting camping in parking lots.

The council discussed solutions to the problems in the regular meeting of Nov. 4, seeking input from KPD officers and the city’s acting manager.

On Thursday, the council will consider a proposed ordinance that would make illegal to store personal property — including camping facilities and camping paraphernalia — in off-street parking lots.

The ordinance also would allow designated city employees to remove such personal property after posting a notice that if the personal property was not removed within 72 hours after the date of the posting, the personal property would be “deemed intentionally abandoned and subject to removal and possible destruction.”

Violation of the ordinance would incur a fine of up to $300.

All-purpose vehicles

Another item the council is set to consider at Thursday’s meeting is a new chapter proposed to be added to the Ketchikan Municipal Code addressing the use of snowmachines and all-purpose vehicles on local roads with posted speed limits of 45 mph or less.

On Oct. 14, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s office adopted regulation changes to the Alaska Administrative Code to allow all-purpose vehicles such as four-wheelers to legally operate on roads with speed limits of up to 45 mph. The state's changes went into effect on Jan. 1.

Written into the state’s amendments is a section that allows municipalities to prohibit such vehicles on local roads. With that in mind, an ordinance to prohibit those vehicles, as well as snowmachines, on the City of Ketchikan’s roadways was prepared by City of Ketchikan Attorney Mitch Seaver.

In a memo written for the Dec. 16 meeting, Acting Ketchikan City Manager Lacey Simpson stated that “while APVs and snow machines have their place in interior and remote areas of Alaska, their use does not make sense in the urban environment of downtown Ketchikan.”

After a lively debate about the issue at the Dec. 16 meeting, Council Member Riley Gass made a motion to “indefinitely” postpone a decision on the proposed ordinance to prohibit those vehicles on the Ketchikan’s roadways.

The motion to table the ordinance was approved 4-3, with council members Mark Flora, Janalee Gage and Judy Zenge voting no.

Council Member Lallette Kistler, who voted in favor of tabling the ordinance — in effect allowing the APVs to operate on Ketchikan’s roads in sync with the state regulation — requested that the motion be brought back for consideration at Thursday’s meeting.

In a phone call Wednesday morning, Seaver said that the proposed ordinance simply would preserve the regulations concerning such vehicles in a “status quo” state, mirroring the state regulations that had been in place prior to the recent change.

Although the Alaska Department of Public Safety issued a “Frequently Asked Questions” page stating that snowmachines specifically are excluded from the new regulations allowing APVs on roadways, the new ordinance prepared by Seaver mentions the banning of snowmachines as well, simply to make sure the ordinance specifically maintains the rules as they were before the new state regulation was approved, he explained.

If the motion is approved, the City of Ketchikan’s regulations will continue to ban snowmachines and APVs on city roadways as they have historically.

At the Dec. 16 meeting, Acting Ketchikan Police Chief Eric Mattson explained to the council that even with APVs now allowed to operate on Alaska’s roads, that didn’t mean that those vehicles were immediately going to “hit the streets” of Ketchikan.

It will take time for owners of APVs to obtain the insurance, licensing, endorsements and required equipment on their vehicles, he explained. Basic regulations concerning such requirements are explained in the FAQ included with the agenda item on the city’s website at www.ktn-ak.us/current-agendas-and-minutes.

Sales tax cap

Another topic scheduled for Thursday’s meeting addresses the city’s tax cap on “single-unit sales tax maximum” on purchases, which in 2019 was adjusted from purchases of $1,000 to $2,000.

Kistler requested that this item be placed on the agenda for discussion.

Tourism manager

Another discussion scheduled for Thursday’s meeting focuses on a proposal, brought forward by Council Member Abby Bradberry, to create a new tourism manager position for the city.

The topic first was discussed at the council’s regular meeting of Nov. 22.

In that meeting, Council Member Zenge suggested that it might be advantageous for the city to hire a tourism manager, as Juneau recently did, who could focus on how to most efficiently manage the cruise ship tourism economy.

“I think that that’s a really important function, to have a seat at the table,” she said.

Council Member Flora added that he supported the idea of hiring a tourism manager who would be independent of the city's Port and Harbors Department, as well as the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau.

Bradberry said she also “completely” supported the idea of hiring a tourism manager as well. In the meantime, she added, the council and city staff need to create a strategic long-term plan for the port.

Council Member Jai Mahtani also agreed that a tourism manager would be beneficial to the city, and would be a person who could work to build relationships with the city’s partners, such as individual cruise lines and Survey Point Holdings — the company that leases Berth 4 to the city.

Council Member Gass pointed out however, that the city’s finances are extremely limited following the loss of tax revenue due to COVID-19 pandemic-caused cruise season losses, making the idea of paying for an expensive new management position possibly untenable.

In a memo attached to Thursday’s meeting agenda, City Human Resources Manager Marie Miller wrote that Juneau advertised the position offering an annual salary offered of about $97,780.

Miller calculated that a position at that pay grade level in Ketchikan would cost the city, with full benefits added, about $195,714 annually.

Flora and Council Member Gage emphasized that the 2022 season really is already set, but that a longer-term plan could immediately be started to implement for the 2023 season, with the possible addition of a tourism manager.

KVB agreement

During Thursday’s meeting, the council also is scheduled to consider approving the 2022 agreement with the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau that would allow a payment for services of $262,500 for destination marketing, promotional efforts and visitor information services.

The KVB receives funding from multiple sources, including from the State of Alaska, KVB membership dues, rent and sales, as well as from the Ketchikan Gateway Borough and City of Ketchikan. The borough, which operates its budget on a fiscal year rather than on a calendar year as does the city, in 2021 contributed an estimated amount of $218,790 to the KVB, according to a KVB budget document. The city contributed $291,768 in 2021.

Also on Thursday’s meeting agenda:

● Information regarding requests for bids for dock and food vendor program for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 seasons. The request for bids is posted on the city’s website and will be advertised four times during January. The bids are set to be opened on Jan. 19, with the awards of leases expected to be approved at the council meeting of Feb. 3.

● A resolution recognizing Ketchikan Public Utilities Electric Division Manager Andy Donato, who retired on Jan. 3. He was hired in March, 2010.

● A report on actions taken to encourage the Alaska Department of Transportation to move quickly to solve issues surrounding the stabilization of a rock slope across from Wolf Point. A rock slide occurred at that location on Dec. 14.

● Two possible executive sessions; one concerning discussions of port strategies and one concerning a lawsuit against the city.

● The second reading of an amendment to the Ketchikan Municipal Code that was prepared by City Attorney Mitch Seaver and which offers a more uniform and equitable rent structure for 14 tidelands leases that were transferred from the state over a period of about 60 years.

The City Council meeting is scheduled to be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, at the Council Chambers, located in City Hall at 334 Front St. There is time allotted at the start of the meeting for public comment.

The meeting can be viewed live via the KPU cable television service, on the City of Ketchikan YouTube channel, on the City of Ketchikan’s Facebook page and also on the City of Ketchikan website.