SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Let the voters decide
By Rodney Dial


May 14, 2010
Friday PM

Apparently a few of my recent letters have upset some people regarding the pool. To those individuals I would simply say that I have never been against a community pool. In one letter I stated my belief that it is an important community asset.

The only thing I have advocated regarding the pool is that it would have been more fiscally appropriate for us to pursue the least expensive of the three options. In any case, the voters spoke and I hope the best for the project.

The circumstances surrounding this and many other recent, and perhaps future projects, scream of deceptive tactics and voter manipulation ­ things that motivate me to write letters.

If we as a community know all the facts regarding a project and make that choice, then we go down the road together having only ourselves to blame if it turns out bad. What continues to cause problems for his island is when we hear only one side of a proposal.

I realize that facts can be upsetting for some, especially when it conflicts with their belief system, or a project they support, but they remain true nonetheless.

Let's consider a few important facts concerning this community:

We have the highest property tax rate (City) in SE Alaska that is now more than double that of other communities in the region.

We have the second highest sales tax rate in the entire state.

The borough mill rate has increased over 600 percent from its low.

Local property assessments have increased at rates exceeding inflation for decades.

Both the City and Borough budgets are in the RED. They are not balanced; both governments are / will spend reserves to maintain operations.

Our local population is in decline, and the percentage receiving tax exemptions continues to increase. Both factors result in a higher tax burden for the rest of the community.

Water rates have / will increase by over ten times the rate of inflation in just over one year.
The borough is considering raising property taxes by nearly a million per year. Even with this increase the borough manager reports that there will still be a 571,000 deficit.

Even considering the above statement, Mayor Kiffer has proposed a plan "C" that would increase spending by 400,000 more. As he advocated for higher taxes that would increase the average families cost by hundreds per year, he spoke against a proposal that would have cut his pay $50 per month to help balance the budget stating his family counts on that money (amazing).

The borough budget increased by 1.3 million last year alone.

The city is / has also been considering a property tax increase

Unless Federal Law is changed, in 2012 the borough will lose approximately 1.5 million per year in forest receipts blowing a big hole in the budget (will require another tax increase).

Even after all state, federal and other contributions are received, the new pool will add 1.1 million yearly to the borough budget. The federal funds used to supplement this project will not last for the duration of the bonds meaning that several years from now the yearly cost to the borough will increase.

To pay for the Whitecliff Liability would require a 1 mill tax increase for nearly a decade, if bonded (about a $230 yearly increase per family, based upon avg. home)

Local governments do not have sufficient funds to maintain city/borough roads, bridges, or the port and harbor assets without state assistance.

For most of us, if our finances looked like this we would cut back on spending. Only a fool would go out and buy more when they couldn't afford what they currently had.

When you consider the merits of a local project you need to look beyond the initial price, and consider all the costs involved. For example:

1. Any increased operating costs due to a new / larger facility?
2. Does the project represent another building that needs to be maintained? And if so, what is the cost, and are additional maintenance workers needed?
3. Does one project necessitate another, and if so what are the costs?
4. Does the project remove private property from the tax roles?

This is a short example of the many things that should be considered, but are rarely communicated to the public when groups push these projects. Let's apply the aforementioned considerations to the new library proposal:

The increased operating expense for the new library is $150,000 yearly. This is an ADDITIONAL expense, above the current operating costs.
This represents another building that must be maintained by local taxpayers, the existing library building will continue to be used for other governmental purposes.
The library project necessitates other projects and additional taxpayer spending. Don't you find it interesting that NO ONE is mentioning the fact that the renovation of the Centennial Building (where the library is now) for museum expansion after the new library is built will cost $8.5 million? (see community of KTN Legislative Priorities FY2010, page 43)
If the library is built on the Grant Street site, another project is required and will be pushed by our local governments, a downtown parking garage estimated to cost $8.4 million (see community of KTN Legislative Priorities FY2010, page 46)
No matter where the new library is built it will remove valuable property from the tax roles, further transferring the burden to homeowners. Consider for a moment all the property recently transferred to tax exempt status for governmental projects and non profits. Fireside building (First City Players), The building across the street (KTN Arts), the lot near the Federal Building (new fire department), new library location?, etc.

I should add a disclaimer at this point in my letter for the library supporters. I AM NOT AGAINST A LIBARARY. This community needs a library. So please don't get your panties in a bunch when you write your letters, calling me the Anti-Christ, complaining that tar is dripping on your head when you are in the building (during a storm) or some other nonsense.

All I am suggesting is that WE CAN'T AFFORD THIS NOW, and we have a usable library that has served us well for many years. Considering the advances in technology, and the declining population the existing facility becomes more appropriate with time, not less. Anyone who has followed this project knows that in just the space of one year, the suggested size of the new library has decreased from 23,850 to 16,250 sq ft, due to many factors.

Also, the hype that we must do this now to take advantage of state funding ignores the fact that the State has funded libraries since 1970 when it established the library construction grant program, under the federal library services and construction act (LSCA). I am sure our competent representatives can seek state funding in the future if/when we become able to fiscally support this project.

In truth I am probably wasting my time writing this letter. Last year when the City/Borough requested state funding for this project they indicated that a bond proposal would be put before the voters for the community match (see community of KTN Legislative Priorities FY2010, page 9).

Considering recent events, I now fully expect that local government will give a big middle finger to the taxpayers and fund this project with some of what is left of the city reserves. Borough Mayor Kiffer will also likely find a way to increase the boroughs contribution to this project. ALL WITHOUT A VOTE.

If this is a righteous project then you (supporters / government) have nothing to fear with a vote, and everything to gain. Make your case on the merits and let the voters decide.

Spending millions of what is left of city reserves, when the city budget is in deficit is poor planning at best. Didn't we just go though a difficult budget cycle where funding to the non profits was slashed? Where KPU employees were laid off? So your answer is to spend millions we don't have on another new building? Millions more to renovate the Centennial building? Increase government operating expenses by 150,000 annually? And ALL without a vote?



Rodney Dial
Ketchikan, AK


Received May 13, 2010 - Published May 14, 2010


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