FIT FOR DUTY – Thirty-seven recruits graduating from the Alaska Department of Public Safety Training Academy's Law Enforcement Training Session 1802 take the oath of office this afternoon at the Sheet'ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi. The audience was told that during the rigorous 16-week session recruits lost a combined 200 pounds of body fat. The graduates will be taking law enforcement positions around the state from the North Slope Borough Police Department to statewide Alaska Wildlife Troopers to the Ketchikan Police Department. Speaker at the ceremony was DPS Deputy Commissioner William Comer, who graduated from the academy in 1985. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

City Budget Wins 4-3 Assembly Vote

By SHANNON HAUGLAND

Sentinel Staff Writer

Following its months-long battle to draft a balanced budget, the Assembly passed its resulting plan by a bare 4-3 majority vote Tuesday night.

Kevin Knox, Ben Miyasato, Bob Potrzuski and Mayor Matt Hunter voted in favor while Richard Wein, Aaron Bean and Steven Eisenbeisz cast dissenting votes.

With more than a month to go before the start of fiscal year 2019, Wein said there was still time to consider other options related to the budget. Bean said he was against taking on more bond debt and the rate increases that would come with it.

Those in favor said the group had worked on it for months, and while they might not like everything, they were generally in favor.

“I’ll say no now and I’ll continue to say no,” Bean said. “At some point we have to put the brakes on spending.”

Hunter said he would approve the budget as presented, in the absence of proposals for cutting services to achieve savings.

“I do not see how we can responsibly move forward as a city without taking one of two paths,” he said. “At this point we’re about as streamlined as we can be at city hall ... Either we stop doing things we’ve done for a long time or we pay more. I don’t want to raise rates, pay higher taxes, put us more in debt but I haven’t heard about services people want to see go.”

Miyasato said Assembly members had all weighed in on the budget at this point.

“If you don’t like it, vote no,” he said. He said those with new ideas should bring them up during the budget process.

Knox noted that the budget can still be adjusted at any time by ordinance.

He added today that the planned rate increases are tied to the capital expenditure plan, and not related to operational expenses.

“While the budget we passed last night includes intention for spending in the capital plan, there were no suggestions on what to remove from the capital plan in order to reduce or remove rate increases,” Knox said.

Rate increases of 5 to 22 percent in fees for city services will be considered at a later meeting and adopted through resolution or ordinances. The highest rate increase is for water, at 22 percent, to cover the cost of a filtration plant. Other rate increases are between 5.5 to 6.5 percent. No rate increase is scheduled for the electricity.

 

Tobacco 21

The Assembly voted 6-1, with Bean dissenting, on final approval of an ordinance raising the age of tobacco purchases to 21. The current age on tobacco purchases is 19.

Tobacco products, as well as e-cigarettes, rolling papers, pipes and nicotine liquids are included in the products not available for sale to purchasers under 21.

Bean said he didn’t think the new law would achieve its goal of preventing young people from forming a tobacco habit.

“It’s just part of life – we can’t control people’s decisions,” he said. “We can educate them.” 

The discussion lasted about 90 minutes, with members asking for clarification on various scenarios associated with tobacco use by minors.

The majority agreed that the ordinance was not perfect and had some ambiguities, but was still a good first step toward curbing tobacco use among those 19 to 21, and discouraging younger Sitkans from starting tobacco use.

“This is just a step to make sure a 19-year-old isn’t giving it to 17-year-old friends,” Potrzuski said.

Knox said it’s time to do more to discourage the most vulnerable populations from starting tobacco use. He said tobacco companies are marketing more and more to youths, with e-cigarette products in flavors such as cotton candy and gummy bears. Some $170 billion per year in health care costs are related to tobacco use, he said.

“We’re suffering at the hands of an industry that lied to us,” Knox said.

The Assembly approved an amendment changing the effective date from Oct. 1 to Aug. 22. Eisenbeisz disagreed, saying he felt Oct. 1 was a reasonable date, and gave 19- and 20-year-old tobacco addicts reasonable notice.

“I don’t know if that’s enough time to get people educated, to give them the help they need to kick the habit,” he said. 

The vote was 4-3 on the amendment, with Bean, Eisenbeisz and Hunter voting against.

The ordinance penalizes the vendor who sells the cigarettes to a minor, which was a point of some debate, but no changes were made. State law already has penalties for selling tobacco to anyone under 19.

 

Vendors at Centennial Hall

The Assembly approved an ordinance setting a special fee for businesses operating on public property near Centennial Hall.

About 18 businesses conduct business at Centennial Hall and Crescent Harbor under permits that allow them to reserve up to six parking spaces. Under the new ordinance they will be charged $500 fee per space on top of permit fees.

John Dunlap, co-owner of Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures, spoke in favor of the new program, which will allow his kayak rental business to reserve spaces for the summer.

But he said there should not be any bidding process for the spaces, which could possibly drive out small operations like his. Bidding is not part of the ordinance.

“Please be sensitive to that when you’re looking for new revenue streams for the city,” he said.

Spaces will be assigned based on historic use. Centennial Hall manager Don Kluting said there is a huge demand for parking in a small area, and this is an attempt to ease congestion and set fees for ongoing longer term historic use.

 

Persons to be Heard

Under public comments at the beginning of the meeting, several people testified about the need for a homeless shelter in town, and Alene Henning stated her concern about people using cell phones while driving, even though it is against the law.

 

In other business the Assembly:

– closed loopholes in the bed tax ordinance to cover all forms of lodging, including Airbnb-type operations and charter packages. The bed tax “was a hard number to come up with,” City Administrator Keith Brady said. “We tried not to be too onerous.” The vote was 5-2 with Wein and Bean voting against.

– approved an ordinance recognizing the receipt of federal Secure Rural Schools funding in the amount of $517,718, which will be split with the school district. The Assembly in the same ordinance recognized a pass-through grant of $19,611 in historic preservation funds for Sitka Sawmill Design II project, and the same amount for the Fraser Hall entry on the SJ campus.

– approved resolutions for grant applications for $11.8 million to improve emergency services, and $180,000 for a stormwater rehabilitation project on Peterson Street.

– approved the Comprehensive Plan, and heard a presentation about the changes from the last revision.

– the Assembly directed the city attorney to provide assistance to the group trying to write a ballot initiative to take fluoride out of the water system. Members agreed that it’s the city’s job to help citizens write an initiative petition that passes legal muster, regardless of the Assembly’s position on the issue. The Assembly has voted against adoption of an ordinance requested by a group of citizens seeking removal of fluoride from the city water supply.

– passed on first reading a budget adjustment to recognize a $17,285 grant for Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs.

– appointed commercial fisherman Chris Ystad to the Port and Harbors Commission.

– approved a 55-year tidelands lease to Samson Tug and Barge at 5309 Halibut Point Road. Samson will pay 4.5 percent of the property value on an annual basis, which is $30,280.

– met in executive session for about a half hour to discuss a contract claim.

 

 

 

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