Should the city allow for short term rentals on boats? These questions and more came before the Assembly on Tuesday (4-26-16). (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

On Tuesday night (4-26-16), the Assembly considered allowing rentals, on a conditional use basis, in Sitka’s municipal harbors and slips.

The ordinance, filed by Tim Fulton, would change Sitka’s zoning laws to permit short-term rentals and bed & breakfasts to operate on boats  in Crescent, Thomsen, Eliason, Sealing Cove, and Whiting Harbors. The ordinance passed on first reading and will need a second reading to go into effect.

Fulton pitched the same idea to the Planning Commission in December, without the conditional use process. It was voted down. The Assembly gave this iteration their unanimous backing.

Deputy Mayor Matthew Hunter said, “With the Harbor Master’s concurrence, I’m comfortable seeing these go through on a trial basis and I think it would be very unique experience for someone to stay in the harbors and wake-up at 4 a.m. as the charter boats take off and watch the action for 22 hours of daylight in June. It could be quite an experience.”

And speaking of tourism, the Assembly heard a report from the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau (SCVB). Executive Director Rachel Roy shared that SCVB is building a new website, seeking a manufacturer to create wayfinding signs, and will be hosting a workshop this spring on how to implement Sitka’s new brand, with an image of a raven picking up a berry and the tagline “Art Meets Wild Alaska.”

Roy said the workshop will teach participants how to communicate with outside entities and outside visitors. She said, “Everyone can use it. If it’s a business, if it’s the Sitka Fine Arts Camp. The city can use it.”

The Assembly also awarded the city administrator the power to change the daily hours of the workweek and establish furloughs. The vote was 6-1, with Tristan Guevin voting against.

Furloughs wouldn’t happen without the approval of the city’s employee unions, with whom the city is currently engaged in negotiations. Reber Stein works for the Alaska State Employment Association. During public testimony, he called furloughs – i.e. the closure of City Hall for the day – a “lousy management tool.” Stein said, “Furloughs exploit a captive audience: the employees hired by the city, vested in benefits, and reliant on the income to meet the needs of their families.”

The general fund is facing a $200,000 reduction in salaries and wages for FY17 and the furlough measure was introduced by City Administrator Mark Gorman as a way to cut costs. Gorman said, “I feel furloughs are a kindler, gentler approach than layoffs.”

Assemblyman Bob Potrzuski asked him how furloughs would impact staff morale. Gorman responded, “I don’t know what the consequence of furloughs will be on morale. I can speak with some assurance that morale right now in the city work force is not high. I believe the workforce feels largely underappreciated by the community. They feel there is financial stress and there’s going to be consequences to that, whether it’s a layoff or reduced work week.”

Gorman added furloughs would be implemented judiciously and that staff could use paid leave so as not to have their pay docked for the day.

The Assembly also approved a major re-write to the city’s procurement policy and directed the city staff to post all authorized contracts to the city website, to increase transparency.

See draft of new procurement policy here: Ord 2016-12

The Assembly firmed up the permitting process of marijuana business, allowing for shops in the central business district, commercial, and industrial zones. The law also states that business owners would also have to secure a conditional use permit, a measure to give the Planning Commission greater control over how the cannabis industry develops in Sitka. 

In closing, Mark Danielson, the city’s Human Resources Director, gathered Assembly input for hiring a new municipal attorney. Robin Schmid, the current attorney, was asked by the Assembly to resign. Her last day is June 1st. Danielson says the job will be posted as it is currently written immediately, with the goal of interviewing candidates at the end of June.