The Sitka Assembly met at Harrigan Centennial Hall this week to discuss utility rate hikes, property disposals, and the future of Sitka Community Hospital (KCAW Photo)

Sitka voters no longer have the ability to ratify large property disposals. The Sitka Assembly Tuesday night  voted, on final reading, to amend the Sitka General Code, eliminating a binding public vote for land disposals of property valued above $500,000 and leases of above $750,000. The new code replaces the public vote with an “advisory vote” that is not binding.

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Assembly member Steven Eisenbeisz, who voted against the ordinance, said he didn’t want to take the choice or authority away from the public in making these decisions.

“Our citizens have told us time and time again that they want to be kept in this process. That’s really important to me right now,” Eisenbeisz said. “I’d rather be sued for having a vote than sued for not having a vote.”

Assembly member Aaron Bean said that while he heard the concerns, it was important for the assembly to make sure the general code was in line with the Alaska state constitution.

“It’s not perfect but it’s something and it’s something better than it was, I suppose,” Bean said. “I’m happy with the work that’s been done here.”

The final vote in favor of the ordinance was 5-2 with Richard Wein and Steven Eisenbeisz opposed.

The assembly changed its mind about how to distribute the so-called “fish-box tax,” after hearing complaints about its original decision on June 12. At that  meeting, the assembly divvied up the $42,000 from the tax, which is formally known as the Fisheries Enhancement Fund among three organizations: It gave $22,500 to the Science Center, $10,000 to ALFA and the remaining $9,500 to the the Chinook Futures Coalition, a newly-formed advocacy group trying to boost Alaska’s share of king salmon under the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Under procedural rules, assembly members on the losing side of a vote can’t motion to reconsider that vote. Since both assembly member Kevin Knox and Mayor Matthew Hunter opposed awarding fish box funds to Chinook Futures the first time, all they could do was reconsider the allocation of money between ALFA and the Science Center.

“Enhancement” is commonly understood in the region to mean “hatcheries.” This factored into Knox’s decision.

“I don’t have anything against either of the groups. The question in my mind is ‘how does this tie into enhancement.’ And the other piece of that is how does this pie get divided up,” Knox said. “I certainly would hate to be accused of taking candy from any kid. But, also, I recognize the fact that this will be the least amount of money that we’ve ever given to the science center for their enhancement program.”

Knox made a motion to increase the science centers award to $27,000. That passed 5-2 with Wein and Eisenbeisz voting against. Bob Potrzuski made a motion to offer ALFA the remaining $5500. That passed 6-1 with Bean voting against.

In other business, the assembly teleconferenced with consultants Sarah Cave and Steve Heubner regarding management proposals for Sitka Community Hospital’s. The finalists will visit the site on July 11, and  submit expanded proposals to operate or purchase the hospital by the end of the month.

And finally, the assembly…

— Voted 7-0, on first reading, to increase transient float plane rates and fees.

— Voted 7-0 for the Port and Harbors Commission to review a plan to raise temporary and permanent moorage rates.

— Voted 4-3, on second reading, against a lease agreement between the Gary Paxton Industrial Park and Trident Seafoods, with Aaron Bean, Ben Miyasato, Steven Eisenbeisz and Bob Potrzuski voting against.