By Sharon Lint
February 22, 2005
Late last September the Commission filed the Petition with the LBC. During the designated comment period as allowed, (September 30, 2004, through December 27, 2004), the LBC received three documents. Karl Amylon, City Manager, filed a Responsive Brief on behalf of the City of Ketchikan on December 23, 2004. Also submitted were two written comments. The first being a letter dated December 23, 2004, from Bob Weinstein, Mayor of the City of Ketchikan. The second was a letter dated December 21, 2004, signed by Ketchikan Gateway Borough Manager, Roy Eckert.
The original deadline of 4:30 p.m., February 28, 2005, was set by the LBC for the Commission to file a formal response to those documents. That deadline has now been postponed for at least 60 days.
The request for additional time was made as the seven Commissioners met with city and borough officials to discuss possible amendments to the Petition. City Manager Karl Amylon and Finance Director Robert Newell, Jr. were present to address the concerns of the City of Ketchikan during the meeting. Attorney Scott Brandt-Erichsen represented the Ketchikan Gateway Borough. Borough Manager Roy Eckert was also present for a portion of the meeting to speak for the Borough.
Additionally, Borough Clerk Harriet Edwards also spoke regarding her concerns at the Commission's call for Public Comments. She pointed out several areas of the Charter that she believes are confusing. She also stated her views on the election process as it deals with property taxes, fees, and sales taxes.
Dan Bockhurst, an employee of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development and staff to the Alaska Local Boundary Commission, also attended the meeting at the invitation of the Commission to aid the Commission by providing guidance in addressing issues raised by the participants.
As such, as the meeting began, Bockhurst stressed the need for cooperation between parties. "I think that it is critical to enlist the support of the City of Ketchikan officials and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough officials, [or] at least make sure you don't have their strong opposition," he said. "My strong recommendation is to try to reach a consensus among the stakeholders in this proceeding."
Bockhurst also indicated that one decision to be faced by the Commission is whether the Petition should be amended with only housekeeping issues or with more substantial changes.
"I think there are two approaches that you can take to these issues. Number one, you can make minor housekeeping changes that are evident in some of the discussions that have been submitted by the Borough and the City and then proceed [with election]," he told the Commissioners. "The second option is to step back and engage officials of the City of Ketchikan and the Ketchikan Gateway Boroughin good faith efforts to try to address their concerns."
Commissioner Dennis McCarty brought up the question of a third option. Asking Bockhurst for his opinion on the matter, McCarty questioned whether the best option would be to pare down the proposal to resemble a skeletal document and allow future assemblies to deal with fleshing out the particulars or to amend the Petition with specifics in order to ensure a turn-key-ready petition.
Bockhurst answered by admitting he wasn't sure if he could make a recommendation as to which approach the Commission should take. Nevertheless, Bockhurst did add, "it is interesting to note when the Alaska Constitution was written, they took the approach of putting a skeleton only into that Constitution 877 words, originally. It would take you about two minutes to read those words."
No clear decision was announced at the meeting to discard the bare bones Petition option or the housekeeping only approach. However, as the meeting drew to a close, the only discussion taking place was how to proceed with amendments to the petition in regards to 1) technical/clerical corrections, 2) budget related matters, and 3) policy related matters.
All participants agreed that the items in the first category would be easy to correct and offered no problems for discussion. As for the other two matters, Chairman Thompson summarized what he believed were still the two main areas of disagreement between the participants.
"I think if we get down to where the rubber meets the road here, there are two issues that are outstanding that are somewhat interconnected; one is the budget and the sufficiency of the budget as it stands, and the other one is the tax cap and changing of the fees," he said.
Taking the advice of Bockhurst, the Commission enlisted the help of both governmental entities in collecting data and projected budgets for up to four years. By doing so, the Commission stated its intention to amend the Petition with a more accurate reflection of an apples-to-apples comparison. This would be done by estimating equal levels of goods and services provided by equal tax dollars both with the Consolidation and with the existing City and Borough governments in place.
Chairman Thompson elaborated, saying, "so, if we go with the premise that what we have for governmental goods and services right now is what the voters want and we can show tax comparisons here is where they are separate and here is where they are combined, I think we're going to get a consensus from both governmental bodies that whether or not it's something they want to vote for, at least it's a fair representation of the facts."
Mr. Amylon agreed, stating, "I would agree with that approach wholeheartedly."
Also in agreement, Bockhurst then suggested the Commission request more time from the LBC in order to allow them enough time to work with both governmental bodies in obtaining figures and reaching agreements over any unresolved matters.
"The Local Boundary Commission's Chairman sets the schedule and when he set the schedule for the end of this month he also indicated that he would be more than willing to grant an extension," Bockhurst offered, adding, "I would strongly urge you to take advantage of that opportunity"
Although the period of extension the Commission finally applied for was only an additional 60 days, Bockhurst assured all that the request would be granted by the LBC with the understanding that should more time be required by the Commission, there would be no objection.
The next meeting of the Commission is scheduled for 6 p.m. this coming Friday, February 25, 2005, in Council Chambers. The public is invited to attend.
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