It was a meeting of the minds for the Sitka Assembly and the Sitka Tribal Council on Wednesday night (5-11-16). The bodies got together for their twice yearly government-to-government dinner at the Westmark to discuss the city’s finances and the tribe’s future.Downloadable audio.
While the city is facing a budget deficit, the tribe is financially sound — and looking for further economic development opportunities.
Lawrence SpottedBird is the departing general manager for Sitka Tribe of Alaska. He says the Tribe is in the early stages of developing a data center here to bring technology-based industry to the island.
“I’ve never been an advocate for natural resource exploitation although that’s a good industry and a big industry here in Southeast Alaska, especially timber, but I think we should still focus on exploiting the natural resource in our brains,” he said.
SpottedBird says the Tribe is looking at a letter of intent to partner with an entity that is developing a national network of data centers.
“They definitely want an Alaskan presence and we think, ‘Why not Sitka?’” he said.
Tribal council member Wilbur Brown had another idea: addiction treatment centers. He says substance abuse is a real problem here and across the state and could be an opportunity for a city-tribe partnership.
“Working in substance abuse isn’t a money-making industry but it’s something that’s needed here for us to keep moving forward,” he said. “With the influx of heroin and the other substances that are coming into our community it’s getting pretty scary.”
The Tribal council did have a couple bones to pick with the assembly, though.
Council member Bob Sam asked the city to permanently remove the replica of the Russian block house that segregated Tlingits from the Russian section of Sitka in the 1800s. He says it’s not being used.
“It has no place in our history here especially because we’re eating dinner and getting along better,” Sam said. “If we remove that block house that would symbolically do something for our community.”
Woody Widmark, who sits on the Tribal council, also asked the assembly to consider creating Tribe-specific seats on city commissions to ensure further collaborations between the two governments.
Municipal administrator Mark Gorman gave the Tribal council an update on the city’s bleak-looking budget.
“This year’s budget as it stands right now five less positions in city hall throughout all services,” he said.
But, he says, as serious as it is now he is also hopeful Sitka can capitalize on opportunities like tourism and water exportation. Gorman says Sitka should expect to see double the number of cruise ship passengers by 2018. And, he thinks some parched states may still take the city up on fresh, clean H2O.
“The market has not fully matured yet for shipping bulk water but I think within the decade we will be getting an annual return on that investment that can offset the cost of doing business,” he said.
The assembly is finishing up its financial work sessions, with plans to have a first reading of the budget May 31st. The Tribal council meets again May 18th.