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By Dan Rudy 

Assembly reviews fireworks, firearms ordinances


A bit short-handed at its regular Tuesday-night meeting, Wrangell City and Borough Assembly nonetheless reviewed the first readings of several ordinance revisions.

Members Becky Rooney, David Mitchell, Daniel Blake and Mayor David Jack discussed a proposed ordinance No. 893, relating to weapons and discharge of firearms within the Borough limits as well as adding a section regarding abuse of the 911 emergency system.

The proposal would strike much of the rules previously on the books relating to concealed weapons and carrying loaded firearms, as Alaska law prevents localities from having more restrictive gun regulations than the state's. Instead, Wrangell's code would defer to the state's.

The Assembly also approved changes updating restrictions on fireworks, as well as adjusting the fine schedule for offenses related to those, firearms and abuse of the 911 system. All three ordinances will be up for review at a public hearing held before the Assembly's Feb. 10 meeting.

No residents appeared for the public hearing required to pass ordinance No. 890, amending chapters 3.40 and 3.68 of the Wrangell and Petersburg municipal codes to restyle Thomas Bay Power Authority as a committee advisory to both communities.

There was no written testimony submitted for review, and members of the Assembly had little to add beyond passing it.

“I think we've hashed it,” Mitchell commented. The Petersburg Assembly will likewise look at passing an identical measure for synchronicity's sake.

Acting financial officer for Wrangell Medical Center Olinda White presented an update on the hospital's fiscal state.

“Since we were here last, we've done very well,” she told the Assembly.

Nearly $1.5 million were collected by the hospital since December, over $600,000 were now held in reserve, issues with Medicaid billing were being resolved, and White reported accounts payable were at the lowest they had been in over two years.

“We're not out of the woods by any means, but we have a much brighter hope than before,” she told them. White reported finding $582,031 in discrepancies in the fiscal year 2015 budget, due to accounting errors. She asked that the Assembly vote to amend the hospital's budget accordingly, which it did.

In his regular manager's report, Jeff Jabusch recapped the Borough's accomplishments in 2014, as well as what to look forward to in 2015. He said 2014 was marked by a number of key personnel changes, with Lee Burgess hired as finance director in February, the resignation of the Nolan Center Museum director and head librarian's retirement from Irene Ingle Public Library, as well as the resignation of Carl Johnson as head of Public Works. The Parks and Recreation Department will also lose its director, Amber Al-Haddad, as she takes Johnson's place.

“We've had a fair amount of key personnel changes that are always difficult to go through,” Jabusch said. However, he felt confident in the abilities of the Borough's staff to see its way through the transitions.

From the list, Rooney pointed out Wrangell Volunteer Fire Department's receipt of a 3-rating for fire service, indicating it is ranked in the top tenth nationally.

“I just think they deserve kudos,” she commented.

The Assembly also wished to present Pamela McCloskey with a certificate appreciatively noting her service to the Borough from June 2008 to the present. Her seat remains open through June.

By state statute, the Borough has until Feb. 12 to fill the position, so far receiving one letter of interest from resident Billie Younce. Assembly members appeared not to know the candidate personally, and none would second a motion to appoint her.

Mitchell recommended waiting until their next meeting on Feb. 10 to see if any other persons apply.

“But if the gal would like to speak I would have no objections,” he added. Sitting in the audience, Younce said she would be fine with waiting.

Younce had previously served on the Assembly from 2012 to 2013.

A vacancy on the Planning and Zoning Commission also remains, with no one having shown an interest in applying.

In the consent agenda, the Assembly also approved gaming permits for the Petersburg Gun Range and Catholic Community Services, meeting minutes, and financial statements and single audit reports for 2014 from Burgess.

In Burgess' report, while the Borough is in a solid financial position in part due to good investments with the Permanent Fund and sales tax revenues, he warned two substantial sources of public funding – state revenue sharing and the Federal Secure Rural Schools program – could not be counted upon for the upcoming fiscal year.

The Assembly adopted a resolution urging Alaska's congressional delegation to seek an extension on reauthorizing the SRS program, which had been allowed to lapse for the first time in 15 years. The program accounted for 14 percent of Wrangell's annual school budget, a bite more acutely felt due to timber-related revenue declines since the mid-1990s.

A resolution Burgess recommended to participate in the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank's refinancing of Wrangell's Series A General Obligation Bond was also approved by the Assembly, along with the revised schedule of principal and interest payments. The $2.8 million bond was originally acquired in 2006.

With interest rates so favorable, the bank estimates the Borough will save between $40,000 and $60,000 in debt services between 2015 and 2021. The Borough's bond counsel is involved in this process, and any refinancing costs associable with his involvement would be outweighed by the savings.


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