DISCOVERY – Levi Webb, 2, uses a rubber mallet to crush a clay rock in order to find  the plastic toy hidden inside during the Babies and Books event outside the Sitka Public Library Saturday. The theme of the event was “Rumble in the Jungle,” and it marked the beginning of the summer reading program. Babies and toddlers received a free book, an activity packet and a stuffed animal. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

Visit Sitka Increase Rejected by Assembly

By SHANNON HAUGLAND

Sentinel Staff Writer

The Assembly at Thursday night’s special budget meeting proposed fiscal year 2024 funding for Visit Sitka unchanged from the $525,000 in this year’s budget, $140,000 less than the amount requested.

Deputy Mayor Kevin Mosher proposed the flat funding and none of the other three Assembly members present objected to that amount for the fiscal year 2024 budget.

The allocation to Visit Sitka was taken up during the second item on the agenda at the special budget meeting. The other item was a review of enterprise and internal service funds.

In the budget process Assembly members arrive at a consensus on funding amounts, but hold off on final approval until the whole budget will be on the table for approval in an ordinance.

Visit Sitka, which is part of the Chamber of Commerce, requested $665,000 for convention and visitor marketing and services on behalf of the city. 

The nonprofit organization has a contract with the city for a base allocation of $300,000 per year, but the organization makes an annual request for a supplemental allocation based on services provided and special projects described at an annual work session with Assembly, which took place last week.

The organization provides marketing services for conventions and independent travelers; visitor services to cruise passengers and independent travelers; and convention services.

Rachel Roy, executive director of the Chamber and Visit Sitka, said today that the cost of services has gone up, both with inflation and with the substantial increase in cruise and independent tourism. 

Bed tax revenue, which is dedicated to visitor expenses, also has gone up.

Roy said as a result of the lower allocation than requested, Visit Sitka will adjust its program and seek funding from other sources to carry out its work under the contract.

There was no discussion on the allocation at the special meeting.

Roy said some $40,000 of the request would have gone toward special projects, such as planning for better way-finding, destination development, and the Tourism Best Management Practices program.

Mosher presided at the one-hour special budget meeting. Also attending were JJ Carlson, Crystal Duncan and Tim Pike. Thor Christianson, Chris Ystad and Mayor Steven Eisenbeisz were unable to attend.

Mosher said in proposing less than requested, but the same amount as last year, he would like to see the current levels of tourism maintained, rather than focused on growth. He said approving a “growth budget” would be sending a message in favor of growth in the visitor sector.

“We have enough, in my mind,” he said today.

 Enterprise Funds

Assembly members reviewed the funds for utilities, the industrial park, marine service center and airport, but proposed no changes to the draft administrator’s budget as proposed.

City Finance Director Melissa Haley gave a PowerPoint presentation and highlighted planned major projects, loans and fund balances in each of the enterprise funds.

Those are electric, water, wastewater, solid waste, harbors, Gary Paxton Industrial Park, airport and marine service center on Katlian Street.

Also reviewed were internal service funds: IT, building maintenance and central garage, which are supported by other departments within the city.

Below are a few of the highlights.

Electric Fund

City Administrator John Leach said the city has submitted a request again this year for a $10 million congressional earmark to upgrade Green Lake hydro plant.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski included the request in her earmarks last year, but it didn’t make the final round for funding last year in the omnibus bill. Leach said soon after he submitted the request this year he received a call from Murkowski’s office, which makes him hopeful for success this year.

“So the fact that it got their attention that early I think we have a high probability of, again, getting that support,” he said, adding, “but whether or not it passes Congress is a different story.”

The upgrade of Green Lake is planned in three phases. The first has been completed.

The electric fund has a proposed 3 percent rate increase starting July 1. This is below the rate of inflation for Alaska in January, of over 5.4 percent.

Water Fund

The budget for the water fund this year will have debt service payments on the DEC loan for the $18.2 million secondary water filtration plant the federal government required the city to add.

 

The budget includes nearly $2 million in payments on that project and several others. The budget also has $150,000 set aside for emergency repairs, which this fund has seen more than its fair share of, in recent years, from aging infrastructure.

The rate increase for FY24 is budgeted for 6 percent.

Wastewater Fund

A new item in the wastewater fund budget is $7.8 million for the federally-required effluent disinfection system. The city plans to cover the cost with $750,000 from working capital, and the rest from a low-interest DEC loan.

The rate increase is proposed at 8.5 percent.

Solid Waste

Ratepayers will see a 6.75 percent hike for solid waste on their monthly utility bill. The main project in this fund this year is a $3 million garbage compactor, which will be installed this spring.

Compacting is now required to reduce fire risk on barges transporting the waste to lower 48 landfills.

Harbors Fund

A 7.3 percent increase was recommended by the Port and Harbors Commission and there was no objection by the Assembly. The major project going on currently is the condition assessment on all five harbors and other infrastructure.

Airport Fund

The new seaplane base has been moved from the Harbor Department to the airport terminal fund, now called the airport fund.

Planned in this department is a new airport manager, who will cover duties both at the new seaplane base and the airport. The airport terminal has previously been covered by building maintenance.

Marine Service Center

The major project planned in this fund is the new bulkhead wall, which is both part of the center and the Harbor Fund. The bulkhead wall is needed to stabilize the center, which is a public cold storage facility.

The city received approval for a $7.8 million federal RAISE grant to rebuild the wall, and replace the crane.

 Internal Service 

The main discussion in the internal service funds was related to the central garage.

Haley said it’s getting more difficult to replace vehicles, and the fleet is getting older, adding to maintenance costs. The increased costs are shared among departments in all internal service funds.

 

 

 

 

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20 YEARS AGO

May 2004

Sitka High sophomore Dianne Chong was named Athlete of the Meet at the Region V track and field championships in Juneau, as she won the long jump, triple jump and 100-meter IM hurdles. Other Wolves winners were Joy Ribao, Megan Lehmann, Greg Hunter and Kyle Ainslie.

50 YEARS AGO

May 1974

 The new Sheldon Jackson College Library will be officially dedicated Friday. Remarks will be made by Elmer Rasmuson, National Bank of Alaska; Dr. Orin Stratton, SJC president from 1966 to 1973; Mrs. Betty Stratton; and current SJC president Robert C. Uddenberg. Keys to the $675,000 building will be presented to Mrs. Evelyn Bonner, head librarian.

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