The Sitka Assembly meets tonight (4-1-16) at 6 p.m. in room 229 at the University of Alaska.

A lot. After a three week hiatus, the Sitka Assembly has a hefty agenda that touches upon everything from marijuana business and distracted driving, to landslide risk and budgeting.

Assembly Agenda for 4/12/16

During a work session at 5 p.m., the Citizens’ Task Force will present their final report. See the full CTF report here

The Assembly appointed the seven-member group to craft a recommendation for closing Sitka’s budget gap. And after 40 hours of meeting, they developed the Grand Bargain.

The bargain proposal, which would take three years to implement, is largely identical with the one presented at a public town hall last month. Major features include a vehicle registration tax and asking voters to approve a 2 mill increase in property taxes, in exchange for eliminating the sales tax on groceries.

Assembly member Tristan Guevin has been the liaison to the Task Force since the beginning. He appreciated their efforts to educate the public, in advance of municipal budget talks this spring. “For example, we discussed a millage increase to support the schools last year, but I think what was missing was that public process and just having that opportunity for a robust discussion,” Guevin said at their last meeting (4-4-16).

The Bargain maintains a $1.7 million cut to the City’s General Fund and a $600,000 cut to the School District over the next three years, but recommends the Assembly never cut funding below 92-percent of the cap on any given year.

Task Force Chair Rob Allen said that change came directly from public input during last month’s town hall (3-21-16). “So it went from a straight $200,000 cut for three years, so a total of $600,000 over that three years, to that same recommendation but with a threshold,” Allen said.

On second and final reading, the Assembly will vote on a local ordinance to ban the use of handheld devices while driving. Drafted by the Health and Human Services Commission, the proposal is meant to reduce distracted driving by fining drivers with a phone in their hands.

The Assembly will also hear a report from the Sitka GeoTask Force, a multi-agency group formed after the August 18th landslides. The report pools existing information about the slide area and next steps for geophysical research, as summarized by NASA, the US Forest Service, NOAA/National Weather Service, and others. Full GeoTask Force Summaries Report is here.

In new business, the Assembly will submit a multi-parcel state land acquisition request to the state of Alaska. The four parcels – now vacant – would be used for future community development and include Indian River Valley, Starrigavan/Katlian Bay, a Department of Education parcel known as Millersville, and another DOE parcel at the end of Seward Street.

Maegan Bosak, Planning and Community Development Director, said that Governor Walker’s administration has been inviting communities to request land. “We all know the state is having some fiscal troubles and not able to provide a lot of financial support to communities. So what does the state have? They have land. And that may be a way they can support future community development and economic growth. It’s not a for sure, but at this point, we feel like there’s no harm in asking.”

The Assembly will also discuss community-wide landslide hazard mapping and consider awarding a contract for debris flow and risk analysis in the Gary Paxton Industrial Park to Shannon & Wilson. The same firm performed a geotechnical analysis on Harbor Mountain, following the Kramer Avenue landslide on August 18th. That same day, a slide damaged the administrative building at GPIP.

In ceremonial matters, the Assembly plans to commend the Sitka High School boys basketball team for rescuing Anchorage residents from a fire during the state tournament. They will also recognize three student wrestlers for their achievements in the Arctic Winter Games in Greenland.

And finally, the Assembly will take its first steps towards establishing marijuana businesses in Sitka. The ordinance, drafted by the Planning Commission, would allow marijuana businesses to set up shop downtown, at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, and in several other commercial zones, but only if they obtain a conditional use permit.

By awarding those permits per request, Bosak says the city will have a level of control over where the marijuana industry is located in Sitka. “You’re weighing the potential harm to the surrounding area, the surrounding neighborhoods. So that’s what that conditional use permit process is for. And that’s why the Marijuana Advisory Committee (see their final report here) and Planning Commission both felt that there was a need, as this new industry comes into Sitka, to have the conditional use process,” Bosak said.

The Sitka Assembly meets in regular session at 6 p.m. in Room 229 at UAS. A work session will precede the meeting at 5 p.m. Raven Radio will join the meeting live in progress at 6 p.m. after Alaska News Nightly.