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By Dan Rudy 

Assembly returns lease decision to Ports ahead of rate increases

 


In an unexpected move, the Wrangell City and Borough Assembly sent back a request to renew a lot lease to the committee which approved it.

After extensive discussion, its members agreed to send a facility lease agreement between the city and and Chuck Jenkins back to the Port Commission. Approved unanimously by commissioners last month, the agreement would extend the lease on Jenkins' lot in the boatyard for another five years at the rate he had been paying.

The action was recommended by Assembly member Dave Powell after he learned two more leases will be coming up for renewal within the next month or two, and that the Port Commission was also looking at implementing rate increases.

“I'm just asking to give them another month to look at that,” he told fellow Assembly members. Jenkins' was one of four unpaved lease lots at the yard, which had faced no competition during the initial bid offering. The lot currently costs eight cents per square foot per month.

Powell reasoned it would be unfair to other lot holders if Jenkins' lease was renewed at this same lower rate when potentially higher rates might apply to them later. Potentially higher, as the Port Commission has not announced an intention to raise leasing rates and may not decide to. Primarily its discussions have looked at moorage and work area fees.

Assembly member Becky Rooney was supportive of the motion, as it would allow the commissioners to consider lease rates together. “I really think consolidating it is a smart thing to do,” she said.

With future financial support from the state in question as the Legislature tackles a $3.6 billion deficit this year, Mayor David Jack agreed rates would need to be relooked at in order to bring in revenue.

“It's got to come from somewhere. It's not going to come from the state anymore, I can guarantee that,” he said.

Dissenting on the Assembly, Mark Mitchell felt sending the lease back for reconsideration would set a bad precedent.

“I don't disagree the rates need to be looked at at some point,” he began. Mitchell went on to voice his concerns the city might begin setting its rates too high for residents and businesses alike to continue. “We're going to price ourselves out of the market.”

If anything, he preferred to see cuts proposed to city spending before asking for more revenue.

Echoing his concerns, Assembly member Julie Decker felt the needs of people in town should come before revenue considerations, and that the city was running a risk in raising rates.

“We need to be drawing people to Wrangell,” she said. However, she added her opinion rate increases were a separate issue altogether. Along with Mitchell she ultimately voted against the measure, which passed in a 4-2 vote. The lease's terms will be left to the Port Commission's discretion at its next meeting, Feb. 16.

“Really what this is doing is giving the Port Commission the opportunity to raise his rates,” Decker explained afterward. She pointed out commissioners had approved the lease as it was only last month, and they had the opportunity then to change Jenkins' rates if they had wanted.

Decker remained wary of any similar rate proposals in future, which the commission intends to eventually bring forward by March or April for the upcoming fiscal year. “I'm going to be a hard one to convince of any port rate increases,” she said.

Wrangell's Assembly approved a resolution to Gov. Bill Walker and the Legislature asking them to consider less severe cuts to the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission, due to public radio's importance to rural entertainment, education and emergency services. This year the APBC experienced a 18-percent cut to its funding, and the governor's budget has entertained a further reduction of 27 percent next year.

The Assembly also issued a resolution supporting the establishment of an International Joint Commission to intercede in the transboundary water issues, in accordance with the United States' 1909 treaty with Canada protecting shared resources. The resolution addresses concerns of river contamination from mining projects near the source of the Stikine, Unuk and Taku rivers, which are the major source of salmon and other subsistence activities in Southeast Alaska.

“This would basically try to urge the federal-level engagement,” Decker narrated, speaking up in favor of the resolution. If pursued, an IJC would mediate disputes and bring an extra layer of scrutiny to mining operations along the border.

One more resolution was adopted, advocating an alternative allocation method for the FY 2016 Shared Fisheries Business Tax Program. The program shares out fish tax collected elsewhere to municipalities that can demonstrate significant detrimental effects from fisheries business activities. The resolution requests that all municipalities share equally half of the collected allocation, and that the remaining half be distributed on a per capita basis.

Members approved a bid from Topper Industries for the city dock gangway procurement in the amount of $45,611 from grant funds. They also approved a $24, 964 bid from Jenkins Welding for city dock railing procurement. They also approved the sale of harbor items deemed to be surplus.

Liquor license renewals were approved for the Totem Bar & Liquor Store, Muskeg Meadows Golf Course, Bob's IGA and Stikine Inn. Gaming permits were also renewed for Wrangell Public Schools, St. Rose Catholic Church and the Friends of Irene Ingle Public Library.

 

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