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The meeting was lightly attended considering the intensity of debate over the Hames Center in the past 18 months.


Only Tim Riley, a member of the Parks & Rec Committee, stepped forward to thank the assembly for their work on the issue, and for giving the public a chance to weigh in. He also complimented the municipal administrator for packaging the deal in a way that voters may find palatable.


“I especially want to thank Mr. Dinley for negotiating with the parties and getting what I perceive to be a real deal. I hope everybody’s aware that it’s a $6 million dollar bill, but only a very small portion of that bill will go toward buying the facility, and the majority of this money will be used for upgrading it and making it into something absolutely wonderful on a day like today when you really don’t want to go outside.”


Assembly member Cheryl Westover in the past has advocated for putting the Hames Center on the ballot, but she put on the brakes recently over her concerns that the assembly was short-selling the public on the real costs of repairing the building, which were identified in a detailed engineering report at the city’s expense.


“I don’t know how a building repair went from – by now, two years later — $15 million to $6 million. And I can’t support this as much as I like the $6 million more than the $13 million [proposed in the original bond ordinance]. I don’t believe it can be repaired appropriately for the service of the people, and I can’t bring myself to ask the public to vote for something I think won’t pay the bill.”


The proposition nevertheless passed on first reading, 5 to 1, with only Westover opposed. Mayor Scott McAdams, who works as the director of Community Schools, was recused.


The second two Hames-related ballot questions also passed on 5 to 1 votes, again with Westover opposed to both.


Sitka’s property tax is capped by the charter at 6 mills. One ballot question will ask voters to approve amending Sitka’s home rule charter to raise the ceiling on property tax to 6-and-a-half mills.


(A mill equals $100 dollars of tax on $100,000 of a property’s assessed value. Someone who owns a $300,000 property, for instance, currently pays $1800 in property tax.)


Assuming voters raise the tax ceiling in the charter, another ballot proposition will then ask them to raise the tax itself for twenty years to pay for bonds to purchase the center, plus pay for “unfunded operating costs.”


Even though she was not going to support the measure, Cheryl Westover asked the municipal attorney, Theresa Hillhouse, to elaborate.


“The bonds themselves cannot pay for operations costs. They have to be for capital improvements. So the only way to pay for any additional costs for operating is going to be through your property tax. That’s one of the reasons we have the third proposition.”


Hillhouse said that operating costs that were currently not covered by user fees or grants came out of the city’s general fund.


The proposition language requires the assembly to renew the half-mill hike annually for the next twenty years. Member Jack Ozment said it was a practice of sitting assemblies to avoid tying the hands of future assemblies.


Hillhouse said the proposition was not binding on those future assemblies, but also suggested that the will of voters carried weight.


“While we can’t bind a future assembly, under and advisory vote from the will of the people we’re telling future assemblies that we want you to take that increased property tax, apply it each year so we have enough monies to not only pay for the bonds but any unfunded operating costs. It helps us with our bonding as well so they see we’ve got the citizens behind us.”


Member Reber Stein stressed that the annual renewal of the tax was not a further increase. Under the proposition language, the tax would remain at 6-and-a-half mills until the twenty-year sunset.

The assembly will hear all three propositions on second reading at a special meeting at 6 PM Tuesday August 17th in Harrigan Centennial Hall.

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