The coronavirus has not stopped Sitkans from accessing services at their public library. City administrator John Leach reported over 106,000 visits, “That’s enough to fill CenturyLink Field for a SeaHawks game 1.5 times,” he said. (KCAW photo/Bill Foster)

Thanks to an economic infusion of federal pandemic relief funding, the City of Sitka held its own in 2020 — and is looking forward to better times this year.

Sitka administrator John Leach delivered his first annual report to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce Wednesday (1-20-21), as part of  the chamber’s “Winter Speaker Series.”

Leach’s tenure in the city’s top administrative job could not have come at a more difficult time: He began work in March 2020 just as the pandemic was becoming a life-changing reality for communities across the country.

Leach gave an overview of every department in city government in the past year — all of which were fiscally stable — and one of which was charting unexpected growth.

“In the library: This past year annual visitors to the library were 106,086,” said Leach. “That’s enough to fill CenturyLink Field for a SeaHawks game 1.5 times. The library has 71,928 items in the collection, had staff answer or research almost 4,800 reference questions. Visitors accessed 24,338 computer sessions. 1,378 reservations were made for our public meeting spaces, 351 programs were held for children, teen, and adults ranging from Storytime, to Summer Reading, to group classes and presentations. Very, very busy over in the library.”

Leach discussed Sitka’s overall financial outlook, which was impaired by significant losses in the visitor industry last year, but somewhat offset by over $14 million in federal coronavirus relief. He mentioned that expenses in Sitka were rising slightly faster than the rate of inflation, but so was per capita income, which now tops $70,000.

Although additional financial relief is likely coming from Congress, Leach pinned some of Sitka’s financial future on a rebound of the visitor industry, and a proportionate increase in sales taxes. He anticipated that the city’s contribution toward schools this year would exceed the revenue from property taxes by over a half-million dollars — making sales taxes that much more important.

Leach shared some thoughts on the matter during Q&A.

“Right now we have regular talks with the cruise ship industry especially,” said Leach. “People want to get back to cruising, and I think that I’m speaking for the community when I say we want cruise ships back here safely. We want people traveling safely. So we’re planning on a season — I think it’s going to be very scaled back — but we are continuing talks with the cruise ship industry. Almost weekly I’m on the phone with one of them, and trying to find a way to continue the talks back and forth on what’s the feel of our community, what can the cruise ships provide, and how can we communicate with each other to make sure this is being done safely while we’re still under many of the covid restrictions.”

That’s Sitka administrator John Leach delivering his annual report to the Sitka Chamber of Commerce January 20, 2021.