Mark Gorman said that in the recent past Sitka had been financed like someone

Mark Gorman said that in the recent past Sitka had been financed like someone “with a rich uncle,” but the community’s proactive approach to the future was noteworthy. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

6 months into his tenure as municipal administrator, Mark Gorman says Sitka is going to become more self-reliant — through a combination of increasing local revenues and exploiting economic opportunities.

Gorman spoke to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce Wednesday afternoon (4-23-13).

He reassured the overflow crowd of business owners and others that Sitka was up to the challenges of the new retail economy. He put up a slide of a Sears store closing its doors in the lower 48.

In my walks around town there is great anxiety in the local business community. How do we compete with the internet? With the big box stores? What we are facing in Sitka is being faced by main street America. This is happening everywhere. And in talking to merchants and businesses that are doing well, there are some common issues that I see there. They are providing a product or a service that when you need it, you need it now. They have a high level of convenience. They have a high level of service. And price seems to be less of a factor. And they have a niche. There is something special about what they’re providing. I heard yesterday on Raven Radio — it was very interesting — a promo for Murray Pacific. And they’re promoting their business with 1-hour docking service if you come into Murray Pacific. And I thought, My goodness, that’s pretty innovative. How many stores offer 1-hour docking if you go in? Very much a niche market, but very creative.

Gorman discussed the nuts and bolts of city hall. He contradicted the popular notion that city staffing is expanding out of control. He said growth in the labor pool has been about 1-percent a year for the last seven years.

Gorman was concerned about revenues, which have been stagnant in Sitka for the last 4 budget years. He said that bulk water sales remain a bright prospect for Sitka — but on an unknown timetable. He discussed the unrealistic expectations Sitkans may have about the community’s relatively low tax rates, as more and more of the burden of paying for services shifts to local taxpayers.

But Gorman also pointed out opportunities for efficiency. He said no one has ever come into his office and complained about garbage pickup, which is handled by a private contractor, and has had stable pricing. Gorman said the city could identify more areas of public-private partnership.

My belief is that as we move forward as a community and start to address issues of sustainable revenue streams and services, we’re going to have to have a much closer discussion on what public-private partnerships look like in Sitka. And I have to point out that this conversation’s going to be a little threatening to people. It’s going to be a little uncomfortable as we explore the possibility of Are there things that the private sector can do more effectively, more efficiently than we as city government. As we move forward we need to ask three questions: Should CBS (City and Borough of Sitka) continue providing the service? Could the private sector provide equal or better service? And if yes, could it do so at a lower price?

Gorman discussed his commitment to Sitka, as a full-time resident for 22 years. He dropped in observations about some of the good things happening in the community, and remained upbeat throughout his presentation. He pointed to Sitka’s Fish to Schools Program, which has become a statewide leader, and called Sitka “The Silicon Valley of Seafood.” He held up a bottle of Leaf Vodka, made with water from Blue Lake.

“Combine this with some of our locally-produced salt,” Gorman said, “and we can have Sitka Margaritas.”