SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


By Glen Thompson


July 14, 2008

South Point Higgins Beach has been a desired public beach in every community plan for the past 30 years.

Several meetings were held between the Ketchikan Beaches Association (KBA), the Alaska Mental Health Trust Land Office (MHT) and the borough (KGB) over the past year and a half or so regarding beach acquisition. MHT agreed to sell the property to KGB at 120% of the appraised value per their board's policy.

During the discussions, however, MHT revealed an unsolicited offer to purchase SPH Beach. MHT informed KGB and MHT that they needed to purchase the beach soon or MHT would be offering the property for public sale.

An agreement was negotiated in late 2007 between KGB and MHT for a specific purchase timetable. KGB and MHT would jointly hire an appraiser. KGB would identify lands to offer in trade for the property. MHT would evaluate whether land identified by KGB was acceptable. KBA would seek private and grant funding for the acquisition. The appraisal subsequently established the price at about $1.2 million.

MHT eventually declined the property offered in trade by KGB.

A new agreement and timeline was signed in April 2008 since KGB was going to have to come up with other funding for the purchase. The new agreement provided the Assembly would formally approve the purchase by the end of June 2008, then negotiate a purchase agreement and place the question of incurring debt and/or funding the purchase on the ballot in October. Assuming the ballot measure was approved, the deal was to close by the end of the year.

With the new agreement in hand, KBA has been able to secure a commitment from the SE Alaska Land Trust to purchase a conservation easement on some wetlands in Bear Valley for $200,000. KBA also contacted the Rasmuson Foundation who indicated an interest in the project up to $500,000. Thus, with these two grant potentials in hand, the KBA believed they had all but about $400,000 of the funds necessary for purchase.

Assemblymember Harrington put forward a motion to appropriate Borough Land Trust funds to complete the funding. I argued successfully that we should not spend cash because we were counting on earnings from that fund for other purposes. I also argued that we were not following the April agreement and since it was extremely unlikely that we would receive any Rasmuson funds by the end of the year, we would either have to fund the remaining $600,000 or face losing the beach forever.

The Assembly rejected spending cash but did move the project forward. The purchase was approved and a purchase agreement is being developed subject to a vote in October. Specifically, voters will be asked "Should the Borough establish a new Fund to purchase, operate and maintain public beaches?" Second, "Do the voters authorize the borough to issue bonds or otherwise go into debt to finance the beach fund?" During the interim period, grant funding requests are also moving ahead.

KBA supporters are fearful that the voters will reject new taxes to fund debt repayment and thus the beach will be lost. This is a valid argument. But if the voters approve the beach fund there are ways to finance the beaches without increased tax burden.

Debt could be bonds, it could be a real estate mortgage secured by the property, or we could finance it internally. Debt repayment without raising taxes goes back to the original idea of land trades. Since the Borough still desires to divest those lands, we can simply dedicate proceeds from future sales to pay the debt.

The original idea was to trade undeveloped KGB land that was not on the tax roll in exchange for desired public land. This is a win-win situation - undeveloped borough land is converted to a desired public use that has been on our radar for over 30 years and we increase the tax roll without spending cash out of pocket or raising taxes.

So it's up to voters to decide.

Glen Thompson
Ketchikan, AK

About: Glen Thompson is a member of the Ketchikan Borough Assembly.

Received July 11, 2008 - Published July 14, 2008


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