Wrangell Sentinel -

By Dan Rudy 

Assembly to change tax due date again


The due date for property tax collection from 2016 on may be moved again, after the Wrangell City and Borough Assembly reevaluated a decision made earlier this year.

At member David Powell's request, at its Tuesday meeting the Assembly agreed to revise the due date to Oct. 15. Previously, the Assembly passed an ordinance creating a single collection date of Sept. 15, rather than requiring payments in two installments. A temporary measure was adopted last month to ease residents into the transition, with collection dates this year set for Sept. 15 and Dec. 15.

The single date had been settled upon after it was determined the city would save money due to reduced administrative costs. Late fees would also be easier to impose, taking account unpaid taxes as a whole figure rather than as half-measures.

In requesting the change to an October date, Powell explained he had received feedback from residents concerned about the new deadline, which was approved in May. He said they preferred Oct. 15 because it falls after the usual distribution of Alaska's Permanent Fund Dividends, which would help them make their payments.

“We're going to get the money no matter what,” he reasoned.

“The easier it is, the more apt they are to pay,” agreed Mayor David Jack.

Powell also wanted to make clear that payments can be made beforehand and in whatever installments residents may choose, so long as the total amount due is in by the deadline.

Clerk Kim Lane explained the next step will be to have the borough's attorney draft an amended ordinance, which would be brought back to the Assembly at its next meeting.

At the request of Assembly member Julie Decker, a resolution was passed that urges the governor to file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court to review a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court in July to reinstate the Roadless Rule for the Tongass National Forest.

The 2001 legislation places prohibitions on road construction and timber harvesting on a wide area of National Forest System lands and would include 9.6 million acres in the Tongass area. The Tongass was given a temporary exemption from the rule in 2003, the lifting of which has been a litigious issue for the past six years. The rule was reinstated by court order in 2011, then reversed in March 2014, before the latest reinstatement in July.

In requesting state support for an appeal, the Assembly expressed its opinion that the Roadless Rule negatively impacts the economic well-being of the region because of its various prohibitions on timber sales, mineral access and energy development. Exemption from the rule has been opposed in court by a collection of interests ranging from conservation and environmental groups to the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association and Organized Village of Kake.

In his monthly report to the Assembly, Borough Manager Jeff Jabusch said the Wrangell Police Department has obtained $235,000 in grant monies for a new 911 phone system. Coupled with proceeds from the sale of a seized boat, he expected the department would have enough funds to replace its outdated system.

Assembly members permitted Jabusch to enlist the help of sawyer Mike Allen Jr. to remove several trees around town. After Allen concluded a harvest at the former Institute property, nearby neighbor Harold Baily called attention to several large trees that were left standing adjacent to his property. He was concerned these could potentially blow over onto his house now that the green belt buffering the property from the highway has been cut down.

Electrical superintendent Clay Hammer also recommended Allen be hired to remove some large trees encroaching on transmission lines. Citing safety and infrastructural concerns, Jabusch felt it would be prudent to bring the trees down while Allen's equipment was available. In exchange for his help, Allen would also be permitted to harvest some commercial-grade trees located nearby to cover costs.

In her monthly report, outgoing medical center CEO Marla Sanger updated the Assembly on the hospital's finances.

“There's a problem with the Medicaid system again,” she cautioned. Repayments from the federal provider for long-term care have been delayed for three weeks, Sanger said. “That's a very big amount of our normal revenue.”

However, she expected payments to resume by the week's end and reported cash reserves stood at $571,169 despite the hiccup. Had repayments gone as scheduled, Sanger estimated the reserves would be closer to $800,000, which was how the hospital's ledger looked the previous August.

Handing over billing services to TruBridge, which began last month, has been of help in steadying the hospital’s revenue stream, Sanger said.

“We're still assessing it day by day,” she added.

Two ordinances revising the fine schedule for Wrangell's public marijuana ban were passed on second reading, which make using the drug in public a finable infraction, rather than a criminal offense. Under the new changes, people cited for violating the ban would not have to appear in court to pay fines.

As there is a vacant seat on the hospital board expiring next month, and as candidate Maxi Wiederspohn is running unopposed for the next four-year term, Jack decided to appoint her to the position. Should she accept, Wiederspohn would get to participate at the board's next meeting on Sept. 16, and would effectively be running for reelection on the Oct. 6 ballot.

Applications to run as write-in candidates during the upcoming elections are still being accepted at City Hall through Oct. 2. So far there are declared candidates for all available seats, but candidates for the Assembly, Port Commission and Hospital Board are currently running unopposed. Interested applicants must be United States citizens at least 18 years of age, a resident of Wrangell and a registered voter in Alaska for at least 30 days before the election.


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