At the request of City Staff, the Assembly wants to revamp Sitka’s credit and debt collection policies (Photo by Brennan Clark)

On Tuesday night (02-23-16), the the Assembly waded into a discussion about Sitka’s credit and collection policies, or lack thereof.

In a memo, Sitka’s chief administrative officer Jay Sweeney said that the fragmented rules, scattered through Title 4, Title 13, and Title 15 of Sitka General Code, created a headache for staff and a heaping pile of debt collection for the city: $1.2 million in total.

Sweeney sponsored a comprehensive re-write that would unify all debt and credit policies in a single chapter. (Click here see Sweeney’s Memo for Ordinance 2016 -06 – and the proposed Ordinance 2016-06)

Features include giving the city the ability to write-off uncollectable accounts, a step-by-step collections process, and attaching utility debts to a property, rather than to an account-holder. This means that if a customer moves and doesn’t pay that final utility bill, the house’s next tenant or the landlord owes the city that money.

Assembly member Matthew Hunter sponsored the ordinance. He told fellow Assembly members, “This is a stab at fixing a problem to make sure we collect what is due, that there is a fair process that is written out in law, and finally making sure we do our due diligence as leaders in the community to collect what is due. When people borrow money from the city and don’t pay their bill, what they’re doing is stealing from the taxpayers.”

Assembly member Tristan Guevin praised the initiative, but said that laws surrounding utility billing and power disconnections – which the Assembly discussed at length last meeting – needed to be ironed out first. He thought it best to untangle this policy knot before that one.

Bob Potrzuski agreed. He said, “This is half a loaf. We heard very clearly last week that people are struggling with the ability to pay. I think that this needs to be a whole package, with not only solving the problems on the city side but also solving the problems on the citizens’ side.”

The Assembly decided, as a group, to withdraw the ordinance, opting instead to workshop the language further with city staff.

The Assembly also approved changing a subdivision plat on Indian River Road. Baranof Island Housing Authority can now unite two four-plexes over a common property line, to satisfy funding agreements for the development of multi-family rental housing.

In his report to the Assembly, City Administrator Mark Gorman informed the Assembly that the legislature cut $5 million from the Alaska Marine Highway Services budget on Friday (02-19-16), which would have severe impacts to ferry service. Senator Bert Stedman’s office told KCAW today (02-25-16) that the reduction has been dropped to $2 million.

Gorman also noted that Alaska Bulk Water Inc. is past due on a $1 million payment to extend its contract with Sitka. That was after the city gave the company a 45 day extension, when they missed the deadline on December 8, 2015.

Gorman said, “I will be recommending to the Gary Paxton Industrial Park Board (GPIP) that we issue a new RFP for bulk water contracts. I did mention to [Terry Trapp, CEO of Alaska Bulk Water, Inc.] when I spoke with him today (02-23-16) that if a million dollars appears before the GPIP board in March, we would reconsider that contract, but at this point in time, we’d probably be going out to an RFP.”

The Assembly also reappointed Richard Doland to the Building Department Appeals Board and Ken Fate to a term on the Local Emergency Planning Commission.