LISTENING – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski listens in the audience as she's introduced during Wednesday's Sitka Chamber of Commerce meeting at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Murkowski and members of her staff spent the day in Sitka visiting with constituents. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Assembly Labors Long on Full Agenda

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer
    The Assembly started early and finished late Tuesday, tackling issues from the taxing of internet sales to legal matters concerning the Sitka Police Department.
    Most of the five-hour meeting was spent on the proposed revision of the building and zoning codes allowing both tiny houses on foundations and tiny houses on chassis (see story in Thursday’s Sentinel). The ordinance will come back to the Assembly Feb. 25 in the form of an ordinance on first reading.
    Among the main issues decided Tuesday night, the Assembly:
    – approved a hiring committee’s selection of a new library director.
    – agreed to send out a request for proposals for offers to purchase or lease the Marine Services Center on Katlian Street. (Interim City Administrator Hugh Bevan said today that before writing the RFP he will ask for a few clarifications.)
    – heard an update from Police Chief Robert Baty on progress on reforms in the police department.
    – met in executive session for about 45 minutes to discuss legal issues related to the police department. (The city recently settled the second of three lawsuits filed by present and former members of the department.)
    – passed on introduction an ordinance to spend $500,000 to repair the dock and net shed at Crescent Harbor, but emphasized they wanted more information before taking the matter up on final reading at a special meeting Feb. 20.
    – approved a memorandum of understanding between the city and the Sitka Cycling Club for a new mountain bike trails system, built and maintained by the club. Plans call for modest enhancements of game trails to make them suitable for riders. The first trails will be off the Cross Trail, above Sitka High School. A number of Sitkans testified in favor of the MOU, which was reviewed and endorsed by the Parks and Rec Committee last fall. The project has been in the works since late 2018.
    – rezoned the property at 4513, 4521 and 4533 Halibut Point Road, owned by Halibut Point Marine, from Industrial to General Commercial and Mobile Home District. The owners, the McGraw family, would like to develop the properties for more uses next to their cruise ship dock. Company Manager Chris McGraw’s master plan shows several buildings including one for ticket sales, the existing terminal, a brew pub, and an “office and attraction,” and amphitheater. The attraction and amphitheater aren’t planned to be built in the immediate future, he said recently.
    – approved a number of budget amendments for the current fiscal year.
    – heard a complaint and request for action under Persons to be Heard from Larry Edwards, related to actions taken by the mayor that Edwards said diluted the Assembly’s resolution endorsing the “no action” alternative on the Roadless Rule. (Story to be in the Sentinel later.)

Net Shed/MSC
    There were a few items related to Sitka’s harbors and the harbor fund.
    The Assembly first voted against delaying the repair of the net shed and high dock at Crescent Harbor for six months. The vote was 3-4 on the motion to postpone the repair project. Paxton, Kevin Mosher and Thor Christianson voted to delay, and Kevin Knox, Steven Eisenbeisz, Richard Wein and Valorie Nelson were opposed.
    The Assembly then passed an ordinance on first reading that would spend $500,000 to repair the facility. The vote was 5-2, but some in the majority said they needed more information about the planned repairs, and didn’t promise to approve the spending on final reading at a special meeting on Feb. 20.
    Bevan presented the Assembly with some options for the repair project. A condition assessment recommends replacing four failing pilings, replacing cross bracing supporting the structure and stopping the use of dock supported by the failing pilings.
    Christianson, Wein, Nelson, Knox and Paxton voted in favor. Kevin Mosher and Steven Eisenbeisz voted against. But even those voting in favor said they weren’t sure they would approve spending the $500,000 without more information.
    The special meeting was scheduled so a final decision can be made in time to complete repairs by mid March.
    Knox cited the heavy use of the dock by tourists and the fishing community. Christianson and others said they would like to get more information before giving the final “yes” vote on Feb. 20. “There’s not enough information to give a hearty cheer,” commented Wein.
    Bevan, in asking for a decision as soon as possible, said, “We’re burning daylight.”
    In their discussion of Marine Services Center Assembly members stated their desire to keep the facility available to the major fish processors, as well as small private businesses. Members of the public stressed the importance of the facility, including the cold storage, seawall and hoist, for their large or small businesses.
    An inspection has showed that major repairs are needed, particularly to the retaining wall, and the Harbor Fund does not have the estimated $8 million needed. Also, income from the building would not cover the cost of a revenue bond, the Assembly was told.
    The Assembly narrowly voted in favor of directing the administrator to prepare an RFP, for offers to buy or lease the facility.
    “If we do this,” Paxton said, “we need to ensure we retain the capacity that’s there now.”
    Christianson said he didn’t believe the RFP would produce any offers, in light of the needed repairs, but said it wouldn’t hurt to ask.

Library Director
    The Assembly by unanimous vote supported hiring Jessica Ieremia as the new library director, as recommended by a city hiring committee. No date was given for when she would be starting.
    Ieremia has worked in Petersburg’s city library for nine years, and has a master’s degree in library information science.
    Joanna Perensovich, the interim director of the Sitka library, spoke in favor of hiring Ieremia, and thanked the Assembly for its ongoing support of the library.
    “I think Ms. Ieremia is an outstanding choice for our library based on her MLIS degree, her focus on continual professional growth and her firsthand knowledge of the essential role that a public library maintains in a rural Southeast Alaska island community,” Perensovich said.
       
Remote Sellers Sales
    The meeting was preceded by a work session on collecting sales tax on internet sales. Alaska Municipal League executive director Nils Andreassen, and Jeff Rogers, the president of the Alaska Remote Sellers Sales Tax Commission, gave a presentation and answered questions. Rogers is also the Juneau city finance director.
    The Assembly had a number of questions about benefits and costs to the city from joining a statewide coalition of local governments in the tax collection.
    The Assembly at some point will consider adopting a remote sellers sales tax code. In the past, Assembly members have expressed interest in keeping the same exemptions in online tax collection as the ones applied in local sales. The finance department clarified today that under the proposed code, all of Sitka’s exemptions and sales tax holidays will remain the same.
   
Persons to Be Heard
    On a related item, under persons to be heard, business owner Shirley Robards brought up some problems she’s had with wholesale tax exemptions. Other persons to be heard addressed the need to make Sitka more affordable, and on a resolution declaring a “climate emergency.” Former Jail Officer Noah Shepard, whose lawsuit was settled recently, said he was available at any time to answer questions the Assembly may have. He said his goal was for changes in the police department, not money, but felt compelled to settle his suit against the city because of the expense of continuing to trial.

   

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