Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Public disclosure exemption may head to ballot


At its regular meeting Tuesday evening, Wrangell's City and Borough Assembly began the process to exempt itself and other public representatives from the state's Public Official Financial Disclosure Law.

Currently new members of city committees, boards and other positions are required to fill out forms disclosing a variety of assets to the public.

Assembly member Stephen Prysunka was supportive of the proposal, opining that the removal of what he agreed was a burdensome document would promote greater civic involvement on boards and committees.

Other members were in agreement. Daniel Blake felt the state-level requirements were intrusive for a local-level position, but he suggested in the interests of openness a more locally centered form be required instead.

Becky Rooney disagreed, saying the word of sitting officials should be sufficient, whether it was written down or not.

“I do think your honor is much more viable here,” she said.

The exemption will be returned in the form of an ordinance, and after review and second passing it would be put on the October ballot for a decision.

The Assembly also voted unanimously to approve the Wrangell School District's proposed 2015/16 budget, which includes dropping NANA Management Services from the its cafeteria program. Superintendent Patrick Mayer estimated the schools would save close to $60,000 from the change by substituting a program of its own management.

Wrangell Medical Center (WMC) interim CEO Marla Sanger took time to introduce the hospital's new financial officer, Doran Hammett.

Hailing from Oklahoma, Hammett has been serving as Petersburg Medical Center's interim CFO, and under a new agreement he will be splitting his time with Wrangell.

“We are very hopeful this will be a good solution for Wrangell Medical Center,” Sanger said. “We are pretty positive about the possibilities here.”

“From my initial perspective, I'm very encouraged,” Hammett told the Assembly in his first report.

The hospital has some progress to make. Operationally it runs at a slight loss, though federal health coverage repayments offset this. Accounts receivable are still high, and Hammett intends to bring levels down by 40 percent. WMC currently has only 25 days of operating funds in reserve, though Hammett pointed out this is an improvement from December when the hospital reported having less than five days of reserves on hand.

“I think you're well on your way to moving away from those days when cash was tight,” he said. However, the hospital will need to continue cutting costs and watching revenue.

Hammett will spend an average of 12 days each month in Wrangell and Petersburg respectively, with the remaining days spent at home in Oklahoma. He admitted sharing a CFO with another hospital would be an experiment, though he pointed out the proximity to Petersburg and connectivity possible through the Internet would ease potential negative effects.

“That's the luxury here. We can try this,” he said. Hammett is currently contracted through the calendar year's end and has committed to helping with recruitment and training if necessary.

The Assembly also discussed the preferred role of its WMC Board liaison position, currently filled by Prysunka. The general consensus was that the liaison can and should ask questions and engage the board, but should also be guided by the feelings of the Assembly rather than by personal opinion.

Jack recommended setting up a meeting with Sanger, Jabusch, Prysunka, hospital board president Terri Henson and himself to discuss the position further.

On a 2-4 vote, the Assembly opposed a recommendation that Wrangell join other intervenors in the forthcoming appeal of the Big Thorne timber sale.

The Assembly had previously agreed to join a trio of suits filed against the United States Forest Service in an attempt to block the timber sale on Prince of Wales Island. At the time, a one-time fee of $5,000 was approved as Wrangell's contribution to the legal defense.

For the upcoming appeal, Wrangell was asked to submit another $3,000 to join the suit. Under the Borough's current, constrained budget situation, some Assembly members felt it would be unwise to provide additional funds.

Assembly members did pass on first reading an ordinance establishing an investment fund for the community pool separate from the general fund. It would be set up with similar parameters to the permanent fund but would be dedicated solely to pool upkeep and maintenance.

It passed on first reading a proposal to amend the due date for paying property tax to a single installment on Sept. 15, as well as changing the penalty and rate for late payment interest. Currently taxpayers can pay in two installments, in mid-August and December. This has some drawbacks for the city, as the dates fall during the audit and holiday seasons.

Both of these ordinance proposals will be subject to a public hearing before the next Assembly meeting on May 26.


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