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Southeast Alaska News
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LeConte out of service pending bow thruster repairs. Air Station Sitka helo crew medevacks woman injured in Skagway shooting. Sitka company win national award for artisanal salt. Google Glass prototype debuts in Juneau.
Petersburg’s borough assembly Monday agreed to release an edited version of a recent memo about the Petersburg Medical Center. That’s after local media asked for the document, which discusses the Assembly’s relationship with Petersburg Medical Center and its board.
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Attorney Jim Brennan wrote the 10-page memo at the request of borough manager Steve Giesbrecht following questions from assembly members this year. KFSK news and the Petersburg Pilot requested the document after assembly member John Hoag mentioned it at a meeting last month. Brennan maintains that the memo is privileged communication with the assembly and not subject to public disclosure.
On Monday, the Assembly had a closed-door executive session to discuss whether to release the document. Afterwards, back in open session, Hoag explained why he thought the memo should be made public. “I recognize he did not write this opinion to be released to the public,” Hoag said. “I think though that given the important issues that are discussed in there that have borough-wide import regarding the medical center and any issue that the borough is holding back something it wants to hide, I move that the memorandum as written be released to the public as a public record.”
The assembly has had several work sessions with the medical center board this year about hospital finances. Borough officials earlier this year told the medical center to repay a one point $1.2 million line of credit the hospital took out without voter approval. Meanwhile, Officials at the medical center say they may need borough funding for capital projects in the future. For years the facility has operated at arm’s length from the local municipality without requesting funding.
The legal relationship between the municipality and the medical center is one of the subjects addressed in the attorney’s memo. Assembly member John Havrilek was against releasing it in full. “Because it was just one or two people at the most saying well what if? And that doesn’t seem to have public importance, or the public should wanna know about, some of it was one person just asking a question. It wasn’t an assembly issue,” Havrilek said.
Mayor Mark Jensen disagreed. He thought the relationship between the municipality and the public owned hospital is a public issue. “It all relates to the tax payers because the building, the hospital structure is all owned by the rate payers and if there was ever a financial situation where bankruptcy occurred at the hospital, the borough’s going to be responsible for it and I think all the information at some point is going to be public knowledge and I think we should release it and start the dialogue.”
The motion to release the unedited document failed by a vote of 3-2 with Jensen, Hoag and Cindy Lagoudakis in favor. Nancy Strand and John Havrilek voted against it and Kurt Wohlhueter was not at the meeting. The five assembly members present voted unanimously to release an edited version of the document.
The borough emailed that document out Wednesday morning. It has three sections of the attorney’s opinion removed.
As for what remains, Brennan writes that the medical center is not prohibited by Alaska law or local ordinances from investing in the stock market. That was a contention made by assembly member Hoag during a work session with the hospital board earlier this year. A proposed ordinance would put some constraints on hospital investment.
As for the relationship between the Petersburg borough and its hospital, Brennan offers comparisons to Wrangell and Sitka which also have publically-owned hospitals. Both Sitka and Wrangell, Brennan writes, have enacted municipal code “providing for substantially more involvement and control over their hospitals.” Brennan cites a recent lawsuit between the Wrangell borough and its hospital over a severance package for the hospital administrator. He writes, “The Wrangell code revision arose from extreme confrontation costly to the city and borough of Wrangell.”
Brennan also looks at public records requirements of the other hospitals and notes that a proposed ordinance in Petersburg would require the medical center to release public documents. In addition, the proposed ordinance would require the hospital to go out for competitive bidding for contracts which is a requirement in both Sitka and Wrangell. Brennan also looks at budget and audit requirements and review of rates for services.
Brennan writes that “In nearly all of the subject areas I have outlined, the Sitka and Wrangell boroughs have greater involvement with hospital management and exert stronger control.” He adds that its entirely up to the assembly to decide whether to move in this direction.
This summer, Borough officials denied KFSK’s request for another attorney memo regarding the hospital.
A work session between the hospital board and assembly had been scheduled for this week but has since been postponed because several members of the two elected groups were not available. That session could happen in January.
LYNCHBURG, Va. — Sarah Palin promoted her new book and complained about what she called a “war on Christmas” in an appearance at Liberty University.
The former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate told students at the Christian university that “revisionists” are trying to turn the Christmas season into a “winter solstice season,” creating a greater divide between church and state.
FAIRBANKS — A 24-year-old Fairbanks woman has been arrested on a charge of first-degree murder in the death of her 18-month-old son.
Alaska State Troopers say Amberlynn A. Swanson was charged Tuesday in the death of Julian Swanson-Byrd.
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports an autopsy Tuesday concluded the boy suffered “blunt force trauma” and that the death was a homicide.
FAIRBANKS — A Fairbanks city councilman who routinely votes unsuccessfully to reject federal grant money finally won a budget skirmish this week.
Councilman Lloyd Hilling cast the lone “no” vote Monday to submit a grant proposal for a new city ambulance.
ANCHORAGE — Anchorage temperatures have been in the teens or colder for weeks but residents near a creek are dealing with a problem usually seen in spring.
The Anchorage Daily News reports a handful of residents are reporting flooding from Chester Creek.
JUNEAU — The Christmas and Holiday Open House is scheduled for Tuesday at the Governor’s House in Juneau from 3-6 p.m.
Gov. Sean Parnell’s office says more than 24,000 cookies are being made and more than 100 pounds of fudge and chocolate candies will be served. Cabinet members will serve hot cider and treats to those waiting in line outside.
JUNEAU — The state is expecting nearly $2 billion less in oil and gas production taxes this year, which Revenue officials say has more to do with lower-than-expected oil prices and declining production than with the new oil tax law.
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A round is sent airborne as paratroopers of Alpha Battery, 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division fire 105mm howitzers during a fire training exercise at the Malemute Drop Zone on Tuesday, Dec. 3, on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage. A scheduled heavy equipment airborne drop was canceled due to high-altitude winds, but the fire exercise took place as planned. Four howitzers were employed, lobbing rounds onto the Eagle River Flats range.
The release of the state’s Fall 2013 Revenue Forecast Wednesday prompted quick interpretations from both sides of the More Alaska Production Act and oil tax debate.
Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, pointed to a projected $10 billion increase in companies’ investment in Alaska oil production as a sign of the hotly contested SB21 beginning to stem the decline of oil production on the North Slope over the long-term.
McGee could be the face of a bleak holiday to come for some Southeast dogs and cats.
The overweight, friendly, 10-year-old Australian Shepherd was surrendered by owners who could no longer care for him. He’s in the care of the Ketchikan Humane Society, which put him on a diet and plans to neuter him before he’s put up for adoption.
As a likable, active, housebroken purebred, he’s got a good shot at eventually finding a home.
But in the meantime, he and other humane society dogs are in need of some temporary housing over the holidays.
Before they’re adopted, most society pets spend time in what’s called a foster home. They’re socialized, house- and kennel-trained, and treated for any illnesses, if there’s a need.
“The Ketchikan Humane Society tries to foster our rescues in a home environment as much as possible,” says Board President Gretchen Moore. “So when we place an animal, a cat or a dog or a macaw or a rabbit or whatever we have, that animal’s ready to slide seamlessly into a family home and be part of a family.”
(Scroll down for links to Southeast shelters, animal control offices and rescue groups.)
But right now, there’s a shortage.
Another society board member, Suzan Thompson, runs a kennel and pet-supplies shop called Groomingdales Pet Resort. She cares for a number of the dogs at home, and keeps them in empty kennels while at work.
She says those kennels will soon fill up with paying customers, because so many people board their pets while traveling for Christmas.
“I take the rescue dogs to work every day with me and I take them home in the evening. But during the day I’m going to run out of spots here because I have a lot of guests who are going to be showing up for the holidays,” she says.
As a result, the humane society is looking for more foster homes, which usually take pets for a few days to a month.
John Harrington, another board member, says Ketchikan also has more rescued cats and kittens than it can handle.
“It is so much so that at this point, unless this community comes forward and starts adopting them rapidly, we’re going to be moving into a kill process of getting rid of cats all over the place,” he says.
Juneau’s Gastineau Humane Society has also seen an influx of cats and kittens this year.
It also boards dogs. But Office Manager Samantha Blankenship says it doesn’t have so many holiday reservations that rescues will get pushed out.
Meanwhile, the society is warning against another holiday issue: unwanted gift pets.
“We, of course, always encourage people not to give an animal as a gift to someone unknowingly. They should be a part of the decision of both deciding to get an animal and choosing the animal for themselves,” she says.
Both the Ketchikan and Juneau societies are trying to find homes for older pets.
Juneau’s Blankenship says they don’t usually need house-training, and are easier to care for.
“There’s plenty of animals that are in need of homes that are in their senior years that still have many years left. (They) just may be a little bit more mellow than a puppy or a kitten and may be not requiring of so much effort,” she says.
The Ketchikan society, like Juneau’s and many other towns’, spays or neuters all adoptees, to limit the number of new strays.
Here’s a list of some Southeast Alaska pet shelters, animal control offices and rescue groups. Email email@example.com if we missed your group and we’ll add it.
- The Ketchikan Humane Society
- The Gastineau Humane Society, Juneau
- Southeast Alaska Organization for Animals (SOFA), Ketchikan and Juneau
- The Petersburg Humane Association
- St. Francis Animal Rescue, Wrangell
- Sitka Animal Shelter
- Haines Animal Rescue Kennel
- Paws and Claws Animal Shelter, Skagway
- Craig Animal Control
This week, the Ketchikan City Council has been tackling a proposed 22 million dollar FY2014 general budget. After meeting Monday and Tuesday, the council is proposing sales and wastewater tax increases. The council is also considering nixing a controversial art project.
On Monday, the Council began debating the FY2014 budget. City Manager Karl Amylon says the budget originally proposed by staff maintains the status quo and is not sustainable. He presented a draft budget that would eliminate more than a dozen jobs. Amylon says he and Finance Director Bob Newell did not support the proposed budget, but that it is a start. He mentioned several reasons the city is in its current financial situation.
“The last couple of years we will have added $850,000 in debt service for the fire station and library. At the same time when the city council opted to remove annual revenue of at least $439,000 from the general funds raw fish tax to pay for the drive-down ramp. That’s a combined swing of almost $1.3 million.”
Amylon says if the council wants to maintain current levels of services and staffing, additional revenue is needed. He says even with revenue increases, additional cuts will likely be needed.
“Some reductions in spending need to be made now. Unfortunately I believe this will likely lead some council members to conclude that not all staffing cuts should be restored.”
Amylon spoke about the interest by some council member in using Cruise ship Passenger Vessel tax funds to help solve revenue problems. He says that likely is not possible for at least a year due to other CPV funding needs.
City Mayor Lew Williams shared his thoughts. He mentioned the use of CPV funds or raising taxes.
“There are other options in the way of looking at a 5 tenths of a mil increase. There is also an option of capping the raw fish tax going to the harbor and taking part of it back into the general funds.
He then asked other council members for their ideas.
Council member Bob Sivertson made several suggestions including using a portion of the wharfage fees and implementing a seasonal sales tax. Sivertsen says he does not support increasing property taxes, but says the money has to come from somewhere.
“I don’t like to raise taxes or utility rates any better than anybody else, but it costs money to live here and prices are going up. When I look through the budget, we’re looking at 10 percent in workman’s comp, 15 percent in insurance costs. We have employee raises and we’re not putting in any new revenue. So we’re going to fall behind if we don’t do something.”
Several council members expressed concern about more than $5 million in debt, saying that should be considered before taking on any new projects.
Council member KJ Harris says the city has to stop shifting money from one account to another. He says he does not support laying off employees.
“This is a real tough time kids. We’ve got to go back to the wants and needs again. We want a lot of things; there are some things we need. We have to raise revenue or we’re real screwed.”
After some discussion, Amylon addressed the council.
“What we’re doing is proposing a one-half percent increase in the general fund sales tax, that would be dedicated to fund operational costs and the debt service associated with the library.”
He says that would eliminate the need to seek library funding from the borough. Amylon also proposed a 4 percent increase in the wastewater tax.
Ultimately, the council voted Monday night in favor of both proposals, amending the budget to include a 0.5 percent sales tax increase and a 4 percent increase on the wastewater tax.
Budget talks continued Tuesday.
Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly member Mike Painter addressed the council. He clarified he was speaking as a private citizen, not on behalf of the Assembly. Painter says he adamantly opposes raising the sales tax. He says the council needs to make hard decisions, including cuts. Painter criticized the city’s decision to budget $100,000 for a rain gauge, and says he also opposes city manager Karl Amylon’s proposed salary of over $170,000. He remarked that Governor Sean Parnell’s salary is $145,000.
The council voted 4 to 2 in favor of restoring Community Grant funding with Council members Sivertsen and Judy Zenge voting against.
The council also voted 4 to 3 in favor of restoring funding for the Small Business Development Center. Council members Harris, DeAnn Karlson and Marty West, opposed the funding restoration.
Additional budget meetings are scheduled for December 9th, 11th and 12th. The Ketchikan Public Utilities budget is expected to be taken up during those meetings.
Prior to adjourning, Sivertsen requested four-hands approval to add termination of funding for the rain gauge project to the agenda of the next regular meeting. That item will be added to Thursday’s agenda.
Also at Thursday’s meeting the council will consider awarding contracts for improvements to Berths II and III, and repair of the Hopkins Alley trestle. It will also consider a change order adding a wooden pedestrian plaza at Berth II and discuss the ability of council members to retain city-purchased iPads after termination.
The council meets Thursday night at 7:00 pm in City Council Chambers.
Public comment will be heard the start of that meeting.
Some Petersburg residents and businesses may see their electricity bills go up in the near future. A new study says, in order to meet expenses, Petersburg Power and Light will need to increase its revenues just over 6 percent by 2017. To help address that, the study proposes a 4 percent boost in rates over the next couple years, but not everyone would see an increase. The borough assembly heard a presentation on the issue Monday afternoon. Matt Lichtenstein has an overview.
For mobile-friendly, downloadable audio, click here.
Local residents on Friday honored Jeanette Ness, who’s retiring from her job as the office assistant with the state’s public health nurse, a position she held for close to three decades. She also has served on the board of the Petersburg Indian Association, Petersburg Medical Center and was an original board member for the student-run Northern Nights Theater.
Friends and colleagues held a party for Ness on Friday and she also was honored to light the Christmas Tree downtown that evening. Joe Viechnicki talked with Ness about her decision to retire and how it was influenced by the loss of her husband John, Petersburg’s postmaster for many years.
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A family dog is safe and sound, but a deer is dead after an unconventional rescue operation in Sitka yesterday morning. The dog had chased the deer out onto a frozen Thimbleberry Lake when both fell through the ice.
The dog’s owner called Sitka Mountain Rescue to try and save it.
Search and rescue captain Don Kluting said, ”There was an open area in the water where there was no ice, really thin ice where the deer and dog had ventured out on to and fallen through and it looks like the dog was chasing the deer and ended up out and both fell in the water.”
By that time the deer was dead. But the dog was still swimming, and Kluting got a chance to practice ice rescue techniques typically meant for humans.
“Gerald Gangle and I were able to make a decision that we could safely do this and that there was low risk to the rescuers,” said Kluting.
Search and rescue team member Gerald Gangle held a cable fastened to Kluting, as Kluting, dressed in a dry suit, ventured out onto the ice.
Kluting broke through the ice and waded through chest deep water to grab the dog.
When the dog reached shore, it had hypothermia. But was able to run to its owner. It completely recovered at home within the hour.
Kluting says this was a surprise considering the circumstances. ”The owners suggested that it had been in the water for about an hour, which is pretty phenomenal actually considering that the deer succumbed to hypothermia.”
Kluting and Gangle also retrieved the deer, a large buck, and donated it to hunters after checking with Alaska Wildlife Troopers.
Kluting said, “our main concern at that point was if we can safely recover the deer. That’s number one, and number two we want to make sure that the meat is not wasted, that it is salvaged and utilized.”
Kluting says the owner was thrilled that the team was able to save their family member.
Boyd Porter of ADF&G speaks about hunter firearm safety training. You must complete an on-line course to receive certification at the field test Saturday. 04firearm
Janalee Minnich Gage of the Gateway Center for Human Services is part of the Wellness Coalition’s SPEAK task force (Suicide Prevention and Awareness in Ketchikan). She explains more about SPEAK and what you can do to help identify and prevent suicide. 04speak
JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell said Tuesday he plans to address Alaska’s nearly $12 billion unfunded pension liability as part of an overall effort to rein in spending amid lower expected revenues.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Parnell said he would like to see state spending well below current levels for the upcoming fiscal year. He did not provide specific numbers but said he would work with legislators on a spending target.
FAIRBANKS — A dispute over pie led to knife injuries for two Fairbanks men and the arrest of one of them.
Kyle David Wilcox, 26, was charged with burglary and felony assault. Police said he forced his way into the apartment of a neighbor, who defended himself with a steak knife and ended up injured himself.
Wilcox was treated at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital and released, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.