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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Stabilizing the Future of the Ketchikan Public Library

By Trevor A. Shaw & Glen Thompson


September 30, 2022

On October 4, 2022, voters in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough who live outside of the City of Ketchikan and the City of Saxman will vote on Proposition 2. The question placed before the voters is simple:

“Shall the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s adoption of nonareawide library powers be repealed, as proposed in Resolution 2956-CI?”

If a majority of those eligible vote “Yes”, the Borough’s nonareawide library powers would be repealed effective January 1, 2024, and the Borough’s financial support of the Ketchikan Public Library would cease after that date. The financial impact to the Ketchikan Public Library? A cut in funding of approximately $500,000, or nearly 40% of the library’s operating budget.

The background of Proposition 2 stems from constituents who are concerned that they pay taxes to support the library without any say in how the library is managed. Recently, there was a specific library program that really caused this issue to reach terminal velocity, but that issue doesn’t even merit being discussed as part of the overall problem at hand. The property owners outside of the City of Ketchikan and the City of Saxman pay 0.7 mils of property tax to pay for the Borough’s financial support of the Ketchikan Public Library, run solely by the City of Ketchikan, without any ability to participate in the management or governance of the Ketchikan Public Library. This is, without question, a problem. The concept of “taxation without representation” goes against the very foundation and fundamentals of our nation and design of our government at all levels.

Now, defunding the library, for all intents and purposes, is not a solution. Just as defunding the police is not a solution for criminal justice reform. And that is exactly what Proposition 2 would do, defund the library. I have talked to many of the folks who signed the petition to put Proposition 2 on the ballot, and their sincere goal is not to defund the library but to have their voices heard as taxpayers. I respect that tremendously. I do, however, regret that the parties responsible for organizing the citizens’ initiative for Proposition 2 decided that such a heavy-handed and draconian response was their only recourse because it is not. Political discourse and cooperation yield fruitful outcomes and that is the approach we need to take on this issue regarding the Ketchikan Public Library.

There are other solutions available to our community that require thoughtful and thorough public consideration to ensure that this matter is resolved to provide for the stability of an undeniably vital public service. With the electoral outcome of Proposition 2 less than one week away, it is important that our community have the information to contemplate the most expedient, effective solution: transitioning the Ketchikan Public Library into an areawide service.

This option would result in the Ketchikan Public Library being managed on a communitywide basis by the Borough, allowing all local taxpayers supporting the library to be fully and equally represented. While such a solution is certainly nuanced and will require significant time to guarantee proper implementation, the process of transitioning the library into an areawide service is already established and permissible under Alaska State Law.

There are some basic action items that would be necessary for transitioning the library into an areawide service, such as:

  • An intergovernmental agreement between the City of Ketchikan and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough outlining the details of the transition, establishing how the library is to be managed moving forward, and, in accordance with state law, the orderly and equitable transfer of rights, assets, liabilities, powers, duties, and other matters related to areawide library powers now being exercised by the Borough for the community at-large.

  • An enabling ordinance for both the City and the Borough to execute the transfer of the service in conjunction with the negotiated intergovernmental agreement, creating the mechanism of funding for the library moving forward, incorporating the library into the Borough organizational structure, and establishing the method of governance for the library.

  • A financial arrangement that allows for the Borough to either appropriately assume the indebtedness of the City relating to the library facility bonds along with the corresponding asset(s), or a facility use scenario where the Borough could lease the library facility at a rate sufficient to cover the City’s bond obligation. This could potentially be incorporated into the City-Borough negotiated intergovernmental agreement as opposed to be a standalone item.

Those three components are just the foundational parts of what would be an extensive public process. However, aside from ensuring a stable future for the Ketchikan Public Library as a communitywide service, the process of restructuring the library in this manner provides the opportunity for additional beneficial considerations. If management of the library is assumed by the Borough, there is the real possibility, with some creativity and tenacity, that the financial outcome would be an overall net decrease in total taxation without decreasing the library’s operating budget.

That should be a firm goal in this process because it is advantageous for all taxpayers in Ketchikan, especially in these times of economic uncertainty. We can use the process to open further conversation about things could be structured in a way to allow for existing Commercial Passenger Vessel Excise Tax funds to replace some portion of the local taxpayer dollars that currently fund the library. Again, this should be a goal for all of us, without question.

We can also be more visionary in our methodology for actual governance of the library. In many municipalities, the library system is governed by an elected Board of Trustees or a similarly structure body. This is something we should at least consider here in Ketchikan. There would be negligible costs, if any at all, in structuring the Library Board as an elected body. The Library is an important public service that needs the oversight and insight of individuals that are dedicated and supportive of the mission while also reflecting the community as a whole. Clearly, as demonstrated by current circumstances, the issue of the Library is something of significant importance to the voters. ALL of the voters in Ketchikan should be able to constructively weigh in on the governance and oversight of their Library. An elected, volunteer Library Board established by Borough Code is one of the ways we could do that.

While everyone in Ketchikan might not agree on what the future of the Ketchikan Public Library looks like, it should have a future that is beneficial to our whole community. On this issue, there are opinions and points on each side that deserve be heard and considered. We can take the controversy out of the situation and secure the future of the Ketchikan Public Library as vital public service for ALL of Ketchikan that is funded and managed equitably no matter where you live on the Island. We do that by transitioning the Ketchikan Public Library into an areawide service.

Please visit to learn more about this effort and receive more information as it becomes available. Please feel free to contact us at with any questions.


Trevor A. Shaw & Glen Thompson
Ketchikan, Alaska




Editor's Note:

The text of this letter was NOT edited by the SitNews Editor.

Opinions expressed are solely those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Sitnews.

Received September 30, 2022 - Published September 30, 2022

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