SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Back to old tricks.
By Glen Thompson


July 28, 2010

I haven't written Sitnews in a while but the issue is simply too important to let slip by. When I was elected to the Assembly, the Borough finances were in shambles. We had less than $1 million in General Fund reserves, we had a Schoenbar project that was in serious trouble and under water by several million dollars. Thank heaven we had a Land Trust Fund with a few million savings in it that we could borrow to fill the gap. Had the Legislature not come through and reimbursed us to the tune of $6 million, we would be in a fine pickle still! Our mill rate was approaching 7 and we were having trouble funding basic services and schools.

Today, after six years of struggle, we have over $4 million General Fund reserves, a 5.8 mill rate, and we have substantially divested in Ward Cove (a $300,000 annual drain). We have adequate funds in our Land Trust and Economic Development funds not only to weather any financial storms (can you say double dip recession?) but to also fund community projects like a youth skate park, buying Coast Guard Beach or doing expensive emergency repairs to a Recreation Center roof or pretty much any other community project the citizens desire.

We also managed to move our staff out of a substandard and potentially unsafe facility to a remarkable, historic school building that was remodeled into first class office space - under lease. We sold a decrepit, condemned, money-pit to Dawson (1308 Partners) and then leased part of it back at about $500,000 per year for 10 years. The voters had no voice in that decision, and for that I am sorry. We did what needed to be done and have a great facility to show for it, but we should have asked the voters first. The one thing we did do was get a purchase option:

That's the rub.

Last night, the Assembly decided to simply buy the White Cliff building, again without consulting the citizenry. Last night's decision may make sense for Ketchikan, it may be better to own rather than rent. But the idea that the government will be gutting the cash in our Land Trust Fund, possibly appropriating funds from the Economic Development and General Fund in the process without any voter approval to pay $9.56 million for a public building is simply wrong.

Oh, by the way, there will still be "bonded debt", it's just called a "Certificate of Participation" and a recently passed bill in the legislature allows the borough to "lease" the property from the bond bank (or their rep) without voter approval. This is the best reason I can think of to have a Charter for the Borough: put restraints on overzealous elected officials who have forgotten who really pays the bills.

The building will come off the tax roll. The Borough will be back in the property management business that we know they run so well. Future projects like the skate park, Coast Guard Beach acquisition, and any other capital project typically funded from the Land Trust Fund, well, they will likely have to wait or find other funding. We may not have enough left in the Land Trust for emergencies let alone new endeavors. Our savings will be tapped so we better hope everything goes smoothly with the $23 million pool project or hold on to your wallet, Mr. And Mrs. Taxpayer.

Arrogance is not becoming, the people of the borough are supposed to be in charge, we haven't ceded our sovereignty to anyone. If you think the Assembly is out of line, as I do, you'd better make your voice known soon because the train just left the station.

Anyone up for a recall petition?

Glen Thompson
Ketchikan, AK

About: "Glen Thompson is a Borough Assembly person who will not be able to run for re-election this fall due to term limits."

Received July 27, 2010 - Published July 28, 2010



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