Sitkans may get the chance to weigh in on the sale of the former Sitka Community Hospital building after all. 

When the Sitka Assembly met on Tuesday (7-27-21), it voted to put a  possible sale out to an “advisory” vote of the public. If the proposal receives final approval at the next Assembly meeting, it will go on the municipal election ballot this fall. 

Assembly member Thor Christianson, who sponsored the ordinance with Valorie Nelson, said it was a good move with a sale this large. 

“[If] you’re going to do something that big, sending it to a vote is a good idea,” he said. “We will have something back as far as the sale by then, so people will know what they’re voting on. And I think it will help assuage some of the discomfort sometimes people have with large sales like this.” 

The Assembly issued a “request for proposals” in May, seeking competitive bids to buy or lease the city-owned property. The period to submit a proposal closes this week. SEARHC currently leases the building to house its long term care unit, and expressed interest in purchasing the property last fall. 

Assembly member Kevin Knox, however, was concerned that, should the Assembly pick SEARHC’s proposal to purchase the property, the vote would be a “referendum” on the sale of the Sitka Community Hospital to SEARHC in 2019. 

“Some of the people that I’ve talked to may approach this as more of a referendum on A–whether or not we should have sold or not sold our community hospital and B– a referendum on the organization that is looking to continue providing health care services in Sitka,” he said. “That muddying, I think, really affects the the how the how people end up answering this question at the ballot.”

The Assembly has already made some effort to gather public feedback on a possible sale–  Assembly Member Crystal Duncan noted two town halls held earlier this year along with a survey. 

“So I guess my question is, do we feel like that wasn’t enough public testimony to weigh in on that sale option? And I guess, in a typical sale, would this not be on the ballot before we even go down the road that we did back in the springtime?” she asked. “Are we doing it in reverse order?”

Assembly member Rebecca Himschoot also expressed concerns about the tight timeline to get the item on the municipal ballot for the October 5 election, and concerns that the full language wouldn’t be available on the ballot for voters’ consideration.

During public comment, Jeff Wright said he was glad the Assembly was considering giving the public a chance to weigh in.

“I think every single voter in this town has an opinion on it,” he said. “And they are not going to be swayed by any additional information. I think they’re informed.” 

Ultimately the measure passed 6-1 with Crystal Duncan opposed. It will come before the Assembly again for a second reading on August 10.