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The vast majority of people, including soldiers, with PTSD, depression or other mental illness are not violent. Psychiatrists doubt the latest shooting at Fort Hood could have been predicted.
The first year of property tax outside the old city limits of Petersburg saw hundreds appeal their property values. However, in the end, an assessing firm hired by the new borough settled most of those appeals before they made it to the Board of Equalization this week.
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Remote private land owners in the new borough will have to pay property tax this year for the first time and that means putting a dollar amount on the land and any buildings and other improvements. The Appraisal Company of Alaska was contracted by the borough to value property over the past year. That firm’s Mike Renfro told the borough assembly members about his experience visiting properties outside the old city of Petersburg limits within the new borough. Renfro said valuing that land was more difficult than he thought it would be. “This is the fourth community I have done in an annex area. By far the largest,” Renfro said. “I thought Wrangell was going to be the largest that we ever did because it went all the way from Meyers Chuck and Farm Island. There was probably 30 percent of the parcels for this compared to the Petersburg borough. Distances were a little bit longer, well about the same, going down to Meyers Chuck. But again it sort of played like the movie, planes trains and… here it was helicopters and float planes and boats and four wheelers.”
Renfro’s firm looked at over 2,000 land improvements, which can be buildings or other development on a parcel. In total the company visited 978 parcels. Their work generated 213 appeals of property valuations, all but 20 of those were from property owners outside of service area one, the old city limits. Renfro said his initial values were too high on waterfront land in the new borough. “Because they were too high, which is on the bad side, they should’ve been lower, we got a lot more information,” he said. “So this coming year with that information and talking to a number of people, I think we’ll have maybe 10 percent of those appeals next year.”
In general, Renfro said land owners were welcoming although there were some who were not happy to see the tax assessor showing up. “There was a threat. And I felt instead of continuing forward and having a situation where I continued forward, this person was very aggravated that if he went and got a gun, then we’ve got a real problem and then somebody’s gonna get in trouble. There’s no reason for that to happen. I just avoided it. Used a telephoto lens and like I said that appeal was settled, they actually came in here and talked to Arne and it got taken care of. That was the only incident.”
Property tax notices were mailed out March 1st and people had until the end of the month to appeal. Most who did agreed to an adjusted value with the assessor by Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Equalization. That group is made up of the borough assembly and it was chaired by acting mayor Cindi Lagoudakis. “Our purpose is not to change the assessment for the appellants. It’s only to listen to the reasons presented and either agree with the assessor or agree with the appellant,” Lagoudakis said at the start of the meeting.
There were only 16 appeals that were not resolved by Wednesday, although some of those were cases of people simply not responding to phone calls or email from the assessor. Only two people actually showed to make their case to the Board. One was Robert Murray, who sought a reduced valuation for his land at Keene Channel on Kupreanof Island. “Just valuing it on a straight doesn’t take into account the most important thing about waterfront property, the frontage. All of the other lots in my subdivision have an average frontage of 200 feet. My lot tends to be a little bit bigger because it’s pie shaped. It’s two lots wide on the back. That makes my frontage skinnier by about 10 percent compared to all of my neighbors. My contention is if I have 10 percent less frontage, my per-acre value should be 10 percent less.”
The assessing company’s Arne Erickson explained their thinking. “We assessed all the land in the channel in this subject area by size, rather than waterfront. And to maintain consistency, I did not consider waterfront in this appeal.”
The Board of Equalization upheld the recommendation of the assessor 5-0. That was the case in all the other outstanding appeals. In some cases the assessor agreed with the land owners and recommended a reduced value. The board also decided not to consider two appeals that were submitted late.
Basic human impulses often conflict with saving for retirement. For one thing, people hate losing something — even more than we love winning. Behavioral economists call this "loss aversion."
Sitka’s commercial herring season ended on Saturday, after fishermen caught over 17,000 tons of herring in just nine days. As it does every year, the fishery brought a fleet of seiners to town, and drew residents to the waterfront to watch the high speed derby unfold in front of them. And at the center of all this action was a team of biologists, whose job is to strike a balance between protecting the resource, and providing access for fishermen.
KCAW took a ride on the state research vessel, the Kestrel, to find out what herring season looks like when you’re standing in the middle of it all.
Each year, the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery starts and ends with this voice:
GORDON: This is the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. The fishery will occur in approximately one minute, one minute. Stand by for countdown.
That’s biologist Dave Gordon, with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game. Gordon and his team are responsible for managing Sitka’s commercial herring fishery – one of the most lucrative fisheries in Alaska, as fast-paced and volatile as it is controversial.
Each year, Gordon and his team predict the biomass, or the amount of herring they think will return to Sitka. They set the the harvest level, or the amount of fish that seiners will be allowed to catch. In the spring, they fly over the waters of Sitka Sound every day, watching for signs of herring, and announce when the season will open. It’s on their say-so that the boats converge on Sitka, coming from around Southeast, from Puget Sound or across the Gulf of Alaska. They decide when there will be an opening, and where.
And then Gordon counts it down.
GORDON: Six..five…four…three..two..one…open! The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is now open. The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is now open.
There is a lot riding on the decisions of this team. Over the last decade, the annual value of the commercial herring fishery, to fishermen, averaged a total of about $7-million dollars — though this year the fleet faced a weaker market. And then there’s intense scrutiny from those who worry that the herring harvest is unsustainable,and argue that there should be no commercial fishery at all.
Gordon has been doing this work for eighteen years. Asked if it ever keeps him up at night, he said:
GORDON: It kinda does. When you look at the machinery involved in this fishery – the tenders and the planes and the seiners…
That’s the forty-eight seiners doing the actual fishing, plus the tenders that deliver the fish to the processors, plus the spotter planes flying overhead to scout for herring, not the mention the test boats sampling the fish, and skiffs zooming around to deliver samples or count the catch.
GORDON: …and the amount of money that’s been invested in this fishery…
Which is a lot. The state estimates that the price of a permit — that’s the cost just to enter the fishery — is now about $430,000 dollars.
GORDON: You try not to dwell on it too much and think about it. But it definitely does keep you up at night sometimes.
It’s 11 a.m. on March 24th, the day after the second opening in the Sitka herring fishery. There is no fishing today, as processors work through the previous day’s catch. Gordon gets on the radio for his daily update to the fleet.
GORDON: Attention participants in the Sitka Sound sac roe fishery, this is Department of Fish & Game aboard the Kestrel…
Gordon is on the state research vessel, the Kestrel, which is doing its daily survey of Sitka Sound. He’s surrounded by half a dozen other Fish & Game biologists, some of whom have flown in from around Southeast to help out during herring season.
SKEEK: So we’re just doing a zigzag pattern here for Dave, to see where these little buggers are…
That’s the Kestrel’s captain, Lito Skeek.
SKEEK: You want me to go on the inside, Dave, or should I take the outside?
GORDON: Just go around, Lito!
SKEEK: Wherever we can find ‘em, huh?
Skeek is watching the boat’s sonar for the telltale red blotches that indicate the Kestrel is passing over a ball of herring. The Kestrel is mapping these schools and looking for predators like whales and sea lions that might indicate where else the herring are gathered.
It’s all so they can make a decision about where, and when, to hold the next opening. The time between openings can be stressful, Gordon says.
“You’re running around from here to there trying to find that opportunity,” he says. “And the day’s just going by quickly, and you know that every day that goes by that you don’t make progress, that you’re one day closer to the spawning happening.”
Timing is everything. Because Sitka’s herring fishery is a sac roe fishery, the herring must be caught while the eggs, or roe, are still inside the females, in that sliver of time after the eggs mature, but before the herring spawn.
Once Gordon and his team think they have a large enough volume of mature fish, they call an opening. Asked if he has ever called an opening, counted down — and then found no fish, Gordon said: “Yes. A number of times, actually. And those are probably some of the more painful moments, as far as openings go.”
“There’s no fish, there’s no nets in the water, everybody’s getting on the radio, unhappy with the situation. You have a whole fleet that’s mobilized, between the seiners and the tenders and the spotter planes, a lot of fuel being burned, a lot of people putting on their gear and getting ready to do something, and then there’s no fish,” he said. “And that’s just the way it is. That’s herring.”
Throughout an opening, Gordon keeps a running tally of the catch, as Fish & Game staff run skiffs from net to net, calling in estimates of how much each boat has caught. Once Gordon sees the fleet is approaching the target for that day, he closes the fishery — usually with just five minutes’ notice. And then, again, he counts it down.
GORDON: Five…four…three…two…one. The Sitka fishery is closed, the Sitka sac roe fishery is now closed. This is the Department of Fish & Game.
When the season ends, most of the seiners leave town. And the Kestrel leaves town, too. But she’ll be back. Later in April, Fish & Game will field a team of divers to survey this year’s herring spawn. Those surveys are used to estimate the herring biomass and build the model for next year. And then, they’ll do it all over again.
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