Opinion/Letter: Stabilizing the future of the Ketchikan Public Library By Trevor A. Shaw and Glen Thompson

Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Stabilizing the future of the Ketchikan Public Library

By Trevor A. Shaw and Glen Thompson

September 30, 2022

On October 4, 2022, voters in Ketchikan Gateway Borough who live outside the Town of Ketchikan and the Town of Saxman will vote on Proposition 2. The question posed to voters is simple:

“Will the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s adoption of non-regional library powers be rescinded, as proposed in Resolution 2956-CI?”

If a majority of those eligible vote “Yes”, the Borough’s non-regional library powers would be revoked effective January 1, 2024, and Borough financial support of the Ketchikan Public Library would cease after that date. The financial impact on the Ketchikan Public Library? A funding cut of approximately $500,000, or almost 40% of the library’s operating budget.

The context for Proposition 2 stems from voters who fear paying taxes to support the library without having a say in how the library is run. Recently there was a specific library program that really brought this problem to terminal speed, but this problem is not even worth discussing as part of the overall problem to be solved. Property owners outside of the Town of Ketchikan and Town of Saxman pay 0.7 mils of property tax to pay for Borough financial support to the Ketchikan Public Library, operated solely by the Town of Ketchikan, without any opportunity to participate in the management or governance of the Ketchikan Public Library. This is, without a doubt, a problem. The concept of “taxation without representation” goes against the very foundations of our nation and the design of our government at all levels.

Now, defunding the library, for all intents and purposes, is not a solution. Just as defunding the police is not a solution for criminal justice reform. And that’s exactly what Proposal 2 would do, defund the library. I have spoken to many people who have signed the petition to put Proposition 2 on the ballot, and their sincere goal is not to fund the library but to have their voices heard as taxpayers. I respect that tremendously. I regret, however, that the parties responsible for organizing the citizens’ initiative for Proposition 2 decided that such a blunt and drastic response was their only recourse, because that is not the case. Political discourse and cooperation yields fruitful results and this is the approach we must take on this issue regarding the Ketchikan Public Library.

There are other solutions available to our community that require thoughtful and thorough public scrutiny to ensure this issue is resolved to ensure the stability of an undeniably vital public service. With the Proposition 2 election result less than a week away, it’s important that our community has the information it needs to consider the fastest and most effective solution: transitioning the Ketchikan Public Library to a regional service.

This option would entail community-wide management of the Ketchikan Public Library by the borough, allowing all local taxpayers supporting the library to be fully and fairly represented. While such a solution is certainly nuanced and will take considerable time to ensure proper implementation, the process of transitioning the library to regional service is already established and authorized by Alaska state law.

Some basic actions would be required to transition the library to regional service, such as:

  • An intergovernmental agreement between the City of Ketchikan and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough outlining the details of the transition, setting out how the library is to be operated going forward, and, in accordance with state law, the orderly and fair transfer of rights, assets, responsibilities, powers, duties and other matters relating to the region-wide library powers currently exercised by the borough for the community as a whole.
  • An ordinance allowing both the City and the borough to execute the transfer of the service in conjunction with the negotiated intergovernmental agreement, creating the funding mechanism for the library in the future, incorporating the library into the organizational structure of the borough and establishing the mode of governance of the library.
  • A financial arrangement that allows the borough to appropriately assume the City’s debt related to the library’s obligations as well as the corresponding assets, or a facility use scenario where the borough could lease the facility from library at a rate sufficient to cover the City’s bonding obligation. This could eventually be integrated into the intergovernmental agreement negotiated between the city and the borough rather than being a stand-alone element.

These three elements are just the fundamentals of what would be a broad public process. However, in addition to ensuring a stable future for the Ketchikan Public Library as a community-wide service, the process of restructuring the library in this manner offers the opportunity for additional beneficial considerations. If the management of the library is assumed by the borough, it is possible, with a little creativity and tenacity, that the financial result will be an overall net decrease in total taxation without reducing the library’s operating budget.

This should be a firm goal in this process as it benefits all taxpayers in Ketchikan, especially in these times of economic uncertainty. We can use the process to open up a deeper conversation about things that could be structured in a way that allows existing commercial passenger vessel excise tax funds to replace some of the local taxpayer dollars that currently fund the library. Again, this should be a goal for all of us, no doubt.

We can also be more visionary in our actual library governance methodology. In many municipalities, the library system is governed by an elected board or similarly structured body. It’s something we should at least consider here in Ketchikan. There would be negligible costs, if any, in structuring the library board as an elected body. The library is an important public service that needs the oversight and insight of dedicated individuals who support the mission while reflecting the community as a whole. Clearly, as current circumstances demonstrate, the issue of the library is something of considerable importance to voters. ALL Ketchikan constituents should be able to have a constructive influence on the governance and oversight of their library. An elected, volunteer library board established by borough code is one way we could do this.

While not everyone in Ketchikan agrees on what the future of the Ketchikan Public Library looks like, it should have a future that benefits our entire community. On this issue, there are opinions and points on each side that deserve to be heard and considered. We can take the controversy out of the situation and secure the future of the Ketchikan Public Library as a vital public service for ALL of Ketchikan that is equitably funded and managed no matter where on the island you live. We are doing this by transforming the Ketchikan Public Library into a regional service.

Please visit ktnlibrarysolution.blogspot.com to learn more about this effort and receive more information as it becomes available. Do not hesitate to contact us at [email protected] for any questions.


Trevor A. Shaw and Glen Thompson
Ketchikan, Alaska


Editor’s note:

The text of this letter has NOT been edited by the editor of SitNews.

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Received September 30, 2022 – Posted September 30, 2022

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