SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska



White Cliff is good for seniors and our community
By Ed Zastrow


September 21, 2006

As a retired engineer and a volunteer on the White Cliff Center Steering Committee, I'd like to respond to some of Mr. Beck's and other comments and questions about the project.

About the sales tax, why it doesn't sunset, and why ­ in this case ­ that's a good idea.
After the bonds are paid off, the 70% of the sales tax revenue that is reserved for debt repayment will be available for whatever capital projects are the community's priority at that time. Voters will still have to approve any additional bonds, so the people will have a say about how those funds are used.

The "up to 30%" of the sales tax revenue that is reserved for long-term maintenance and a portion of operating costs will still be available to ensure the long-term sustainability of the White Cliff Center. For many people (including major granting agencies), that's exactly the kind of planning that they want to invest in. In fact, many consider it prudent to plan for those costs in the beginning of a project, rather than be surprised by them down the line.

About the senior sales tax exemption.
It's true that seniors are exempt from the sales tax. We don't live in a pay-as-you-go society. People without kids pay taxes for education. Healthy people pay taxes for hospitals. We've all made some agreement to take care of each other, and to pool our resources to make that possible. That's what this tax will do.

This community has decided to recognize its seniors ­ and their years of service in building this community ­ by exempting them from sales tax. That's a decision that people can debate from lots of angles. In fact, there's a group that exists to address just those kinds of issues. The joint tax committee is made up by Borough and City representatives, and I'm sure the City and Borough Clerks can let folks know when they meet next.

Regardless of your position on the senior sales tax exemption, the two propositions on the ballot aren't about that. This vote is about an opportunity we have to do something great with White Cliff. The plan on the table is for a center that addresses important community needs. And folks, let me tell you, this community needs a bigger, more accessible senior center, and doing that with the arts groups makes it an even stronger project, for both seniors and the arts. When I was at the White House Council on Aging in December, this was exactly the kind of project they were talking about ­ building senior centers in places that are more accessible, multigenerational, and inviting to the whole community. White Cliff will do that.

About the current Senior Center.
In addition to the 20-30 seniors who enjoy a healthy meal and other activities at the Senior Center each day (and it's not always the same individuals!), the Center programs provide 19,000 rides per year, and 10,500 Meals on Wheels. These are services that help people live healthy, independent lives. And you know what they say about "an ounce of prevention" ­ these services help keep people out of facilities that are much more costly.

The biggest reason we don't serve more seniors is that we don't have the space we need. When we have expanded dining and social space at White Cliff ­ along with dance studios and art classrooms close by ­ we'll be able to do a whole lot of things that are just not possible in our existing "one-room" senior center.

About phased construction.
As Mr. Beck mentioned in his letter, this project doesn't lend itself to phased construction, for a number of reasons (mobilization costs, etc.) Because of this, it would not be efficient to try to renovate one floor this year, and then wait for a couple of years before doing the another section of the building, etc. The overall costs would be much higher, and the usefulness of the building during that time would be much less.

However, Mr. Beck's assertion that we're planning to do this project in phases is not correct. The project has been proposed as a single construction phase. This will be the most cost-effective approach for renovation of the building, rather than dividing the project into separate, distinct phases. (We DID do a phased Site Review, and that might be the source of the confusion. In assessing the feasibility of this project, we conducted a condition survey of the building before we wanted to commit any resources to developing the conceptual plan for how we would use the building.)

About Schoenbar.
The Schoenbar effect is going to be something that takes the community a long time to get over. That doesn't mean that other worthwhile projects should suffer because of it - that's just adding to the cost of Schoenbar.

We have all been singed by that experience, but if you look beyond Ketchikan, you don't have to look far to find many examples of successful projects, where old buildings have been turned into senior housing, retail space, day care centers, etc.

Please take the time to find out more, and don't forget to vote!

Ed Zastrow
Ketchikan, AK - USA

Related Viewpoint:

letter Stop Schoencliff 2 By John Beck - Ketchikan, AK - USA


On the Web:

Proposition 1 - Sales Tax Increase: For the full text of Ordinance No. 1403 click here

Proposition 2 - Bonds: For the full text of Ordinance No. 1404 click here

White Cliff Project


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Ketchikan, Alaska