Garbage cans stand in a Sitka alley. The city has recommended that rates go up across several Enterprise Funds. While current rates are adequate to pay for city services, they are not enough to finance future maintenance projects.  (Emily Kwong/KCAW)

A community-driven public transportation project has been given the green light by the Sitka Assembly at their Tuesday night meeting (07-11-17). The body also gave final approval to a full roster of rate increases to keep up with inflation and fund future infrastructure projects. 

Metered water service will go up 3%, sewer service by 4.5%, and solid waste disposal by 2%. The vote was  4-3. Assembly members Tristan Guevin, Kevin Knox, Bob Potrzuski and Mayor Matt Hunter voted in favor. Aaron Bean, Aaron Swanson and Steven Eisenbeisz voted against.

In dollar figures, this breaks down as follows for residential users: 

  • For wastewater, rates rise from $53.60/month to $56.01/month
  • For water, rates rise from $39.35/month to $40.53/month
  • For weekly pick-up of a 48-gallon trash can, rates rise from $30.32/month to $30.95/month
  • For weekly pick-up of a 96-gallon trash can, rates rise from $50.94/month to $51.99/month
  • Connection fees for water and sewer also are going up, under the ordinance

The Assembly also approved a budget amendment – on first reading – of $10,000 to pilot a downtown shuttle for tourists. The money would come from bed tax revenue and will receive a second reading on July 25th. See proposal here: Memo and Ord 2017-24

Interim City Administrator Phillip Messina told the group he’s been talking with Sitka Tribe of Alaska General Manager Lisa Gassman about mobilizing one of their buses for the project.

“Depending on just a couple things, they could start as early as this Sunday. They would start at 8:30, run a 15 minute loop counter clockwise from [Harrigan Centennial Hall] and down Lincoln Street. Up to three stops,” said Messina.

Messina didn’t provide further detail about the proposed route or schedule, but it’s likely the shuttle would run when larger cruise ships are in town. If it’s successful after a 30-day trial, the business community will likely have to put their own funding forward to keep the shuttle going. 

Speaking of dollars, the Assembly approved two grant applications to the state Department of Transportation. One is a $5 million dollar request to replace several floats at Crescent Harbor and $1.5 million dollars to replace electrical infrastructure at Eliason Harbor.

If received, the grants wouldn’t fully cover the project. For Crescent Harbor, the city would need to bond or get a loan for $8.5 million and for Eliason Harbor, another $1.5 million.

This didn’t sit well with several members of the Assembly, because it would require raising harbor rates.

Mayor Matthew Hunter spoke to the challenges at Crescent Harbor in particular. “The cost of maintenance for this harbor is increasing nearly exponentially, as it takes longer and longer bolts and screws instead of nails to hold things together because things are rotting. We do need to fix this. However, if we’re raising rates 6% through 2035, that’s not going to work for our harbors. So we’re probably going to have to subsidize our harbors at some point, or just not have our harbors.

The majority of the Assembly approved the grant applications, preferring to seek funding for the harbors now instead of later.

On first reading, the Assembly also leased additional space to Northline Seafoods, a floating processing plant at the Gary Paxton Industrial Park, and added language to Sitka General Code to provide defense and indemnification for city employees against claims and lawsuits.