The Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly will take up a veto override, a coronavirus relief work session and discussions of lobbying priorities during its next regular meeting on Tuesday evening.
Vice Mayor AJ Pierce has sponsored a proposed override of Borough Mayor Rodney Dial's veto of a resolution asking the state Legislature to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.
The resolution passed 6-1 at the Assembly's Aug. 17 regular meeting, with Assembly Member Susan Pickrell voting in dissent; Dial vetoed the resolution on the grounds that it would lead to "Christian persecution in our community" and would violate the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion and suggested the Assembly pass a new resolution "that does not benefit one group at the expense of another."
The City of Ketchikan passed a similar resolution earlier this summer to protect business patrons from discrimination, as have other communities in the state, including Juneau, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Bethel.
The veto override would require the support of at least 5 Assembly members.
"Ketchikan is a community that enjoys a rich diversity of ethnicity, political viewpoint, religious belief, and lifestyle," Pierce wrote in her sponsor statement for the override. "As a community that enjoys such diversity, it is important that it also demonstrate a spirit of inclusiveness for all of its citizens, not just those in power or in the majority. To the contrary, it's arguably more important that our community show, in word and in deed, that all citizens ARE created equal, and endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to be free from discrimination and exclusion as they enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in a measure equal to all citizens."
Pierce's sponsor statement also quoted the U.S. Supreme Court's 2018 decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, in which a gay couple sued a cake shop for refusing to design and bake their wedding cake because the store owner said it would violate his religious beliefs.
The court ruled 7-2 in favor of the cake store on narrow grounds, arguing that the Civil Rights Commission had "elements of a clear and impermissible hostility toward the sincere religious beliefs that motivated (the store owner's) objection," but it sidestepped the deeper issue as to whether requiring service regardless of sexual orientation violates the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion for the case cautioned that future cases wouldn't necessarily be decided in the same way without the presence of religious hostility, which Pierce quoted in her sponsor statement.
"While those religious and philosophical objections are protected," Kennedy wrote, "it is a general rule that such objections do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services under a neutral and generally applicable public accommodations law."
CARES Act work session
With most of the borough's coronavirus relief programs accepting applications or already paid out, the Assembly will enter a work session on Tuesday to discuss how to divert and allocate another sum of its $10.4 million in funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.
Borough staff are recommending that $811,729 of new funding be allocated to relief programs, most of which — $500,000 — would be used to allow for a second round of relief funding for an existing business relief program administered by the borough.
The proposed expansion would be for the borough's original business relief program, which is only open to businesses with annual gross sales exceeding $100,000; it would not be for the existing small business grant program, which was available only to businesses with annual gross sales between $10,000 and $100,000.
Borough Finance Director Cynna Gubatayao said in an interview with the Daily News on Friday that she expects a second round of small business relief funding to be available later this year.
The borough also has requested $335,099 to reimburse its own expenditures. Just over 60% of that would cover payroll expenses for the North and South Tongass Volunteer Fire Departments for the previous fiscal year, which Gubatayao said is a permissible use of CARES Act funds.
Finally, $31,630 would go to the City of Saxman to purchase and install equipment to allow its City Council to stream meetings live online.
If all funding allocations are approved, the borough would have $454,718 of unallocated CARES Act funds remaining.
Borough staff are further recommending moving $1.12 million from previous allocations to other programs.
Most of that $1.12 million will come from an Assembly-approved transfer of $1 million to the City of Ketchikan for the city's utilities relief program. That relief program ended before the city had used all of its own funds, and the City Council therefore declined the borough's transfer.
The borough's $1 million would instead finance a proposed $1.06 million expansion of the borough's existing rent and mortgage assistance program, which currently is budgeted at $530,000. (The $60,000 is 6% fee for Community Connections to administer the relief.) Borough staff specifically targeted the rent and mortgage program for expansion because of the high demand for the program, Gubatayao said.
Another $115,000 would be shifted out of the borough's personal protective equipment reimbursement program, which was budgeted for $200,000 when the Assembly first created it in early June. The program has seen limited activity, Gubatayao said, though applications for the program are still open until the end of September.
State lobbying priorities
Borough staff have prepared a list of capital improvement projects for which they are seeking state funding, as well as a list of policy issues for which they will advocate in February.
First on Tuesday's agenda is the borough's list of capital projects for which it will request state funding in the 2022 fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2021. Project proposals are evaluated according to three criteria: whether they have already begun and need to be finished; whether they create jobs; and whether they improve the life, safety or health of members of the community.
Borough staff identified seven high-priority capital projects in the community for potential state funding. The projects are as follows, ranked from highest-priority to lowest-priority:
1. The Ketchikan School District is requesting $1.03 million from the state for a security system improvement project for Ketchikan High School. The project would replace 30 outdated "poor resolution" cameras in the school with more than 100 high-resolution, low-light capable cameras. The project also would result in "increased remotely accessible storage for images and a consistent user-friendly software interface with which to administer the system."
2. The borough is requesting $400,000 from the state to finish safety improvements for bus stops outside Ketchikan's city limits. The project "would transition Ketchikan from flag stops outside the city limits to delineated physical bus stops, shelters and pull outs for increased safety."
3. Ketchikan International Airport is requesting $4.61 million for four maintenance projects: $545,000 to replace the access ramp to the seaplane pullout dock to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (the current ramp is too steep for the standards); $2.1 million to fix the seaplane pullout dock and access ramp, which are "beyond repair;" $660,000 for a brush-cutting hoe to clear brush and trees from areas around the airport "to deter wildlife habitat and avoid obstruction to navigational aids ... a critical safety issue to airports throughout Alaska;" and $1.3 million to replace the seaplane pullout dock at Murphy's Landing, and to add more pullouts there.
4. The borough is requesting $2.13 million to complete the sixth and final phase of the South Tongass Water Improvement Project, which began in 2009. The sixth phase would constitute a standalone project to build a 100,000-gallon steel water tank, pump station and pressure reducing vault in the South Tongass Service Area to maintain fire flows throughout the service area and to accommodate planned expansions in high-elevation areas of the Ravenwood subdivision of the service area.
5. The district also has requested $1.95 million in state funds to upgrade and replace all of the major mechanical systems at Point Higgins Elementary School, including its domestic, gray and black water systems; its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system; and its boilers.
6. The borough has requested $4 million for "major capital improvements and upgrades to the Mountain Point Wastewater Treatment Plant" to "(mitigate) offensive odors, as the plant has been the recipient of relatively frequent odor complaints due to the expansion of surrounding residential neighborhoods downwind of the plant." The project would aim to "minimize offensive odors and improve operations to ensure long-term system capacity."
7. Finally, the borough is requesting $6.65 million for upgrades to Houghtaling Field, Norman Walker Field and Dudley Field. The Houghtaling Field improvements would construct a parking lot and accessible routes to the T-ball and coach pitch fields. Improvements to Norman Walker and Dudley fields would replace their current sand playing surfaces with synthetic turf, and would improve drainage on each field.
The Assembly can amend the list during Tuesday's meeting.
After discussing capital project requests, the Assembly will review a set of policy priorities for the community to advocate for from the state's executive and legislative branches.
The written resolution advocates three main points: maintaining the current arrangement for sharing the state excise tax on commercial passenger vessels; continuing to fund the Alaska Marine Highway System; and opposing any state efforts to shift education funding responsibilities to municipalities. The resolution further specifies four stances on education, opposing the following:
• Any increase to the Required Local Contribution, which the borough is calling "an invidious and unconstitutional measure, contrary to the mandate of the Alaska Constitution's Public Schools Clause. ... Its selective imposition has no rational basis in law."
• Any legislation that would "increase the burden on (Public Employees' Retirement System) and (Teachers' Retirement System) employers ... including reducing on-behalf rates, imposition of termination study costs, and efforts to shift more of the net pension liability for PERS or TRS onto municipalities."
• Any efforts to reduce School Bond Debt Reimbursement payments "for approved debt incurred by municipalities under the promise of State assistance and prior to the moratorium enacted in (Alaska statute) 14.11.100(s)."
• Any state efforts to "reduce the base student allocation, the method of calculation of average daily membership, or the multipliers set forth in the public school funding formula contained in AS 14.17.410."
The agenda for the policy resolution notes that the list of policy stances is not meant to be "all-inclusive of all past Assembly-adopted resolutions or statements of support.
"It is important to note that there are many more resolutions that have been adopted by the Assembly that remain relevant for advocacy on a State level," the agenda statement continues. "Borough staff and officials may choose to advocate for additional policy issues that are not included in this resolution. Additionally, the Assembly may amend Resolution 2870 to include additional priority policy issues, if desired."
Once the Assembly approves lists of advocacy issues and projects, the lists will be sent to the Lobbying Executive Committee, which considers capital project requests and policy issues on behalf of the Community of Ketchikan.
The committee includes Dial and the mayors of the City of Ketchikan and the City of Saxman; the managers of the borough and of the City of Ketchikan; the city administrator for Saxman; one Assembly member; and one member of the Ketchikan City Council, Borough Clerk Kacie Paxton said in a Friday phone interview. This year, Assembly Member David Landis and Councilmember Richard Coose will represent the legislative bodies of each municipality.
Two public hearings are on Tuesday's agenda, both of which would introduce rezone requests from local business owner Trevor Sande, who is asking to convert two pieces of property along North Tongass Highway to Planned Unit Development zones.
Sande has requested changing the Future Use zoning designation at the 700 block of D1 Loop Road on the North Tongass Highway to allow for the development of a condominium with up to 15 living units. The building would be overseen by a condominium association and would allow for development of community assets, "such as garden space and fields," according to the agenda statement.
The second request would rezone property located at 15639 North Tongass Hwy., near the North Tongass Fire Station, from Low-density Residential to Planned Unit Development. The owners had been using their residential properties for "commercial/tourism uses," according to the agenda, and were not aware that such uses were not allowed in a residential zone — hence the rezone.
"Planning Staff has worked with the owners to develop a comprehensive list of uses with development requirements to reach the needs of the owners while still protecting the neighborhood and surrounding residential uses," the agenda states.
The Borough Planning Commission held public hearings on the requests on Aug. 11 and recommended approval of both requests.
If the Assembly votes to introduce the rezone requests, they would be set for a second public hearing at the Assembly's Sept. 21 regular meeting.
Tuesday's Assembly meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the Assembly chambers at 1900 First Ave. The meeting can be watched live on the borough's website at kgbak.us and on local KPU and GCI TV channels.
There will be time for public comment near the start of the meeting and at the start of each public hearing. Written comments can be submitted to the borough clerk's office to be read into the record at email@example.com.
The full meeting agenda can be found on the borough's website at bit.ly/31ZdumP.