In a 4-2 vote, the Haines Borough Assembly approved the 95 percent design plans for the Portage Cove Harbor expansion. But much of Tuesday’s meeting was spent debating other topics.
The harbor design almost went to a vote with no discussion. But Assemblyman George Campbell raised some concerns, such as the fact that the relocation of Lookout Park, and how to fund that undertaking, were not included in the 95 percent design. Interim Borough Manager Brad Ryan said it’s a ‘phased’ project, which is why those details are not yet drawn out.
Assembly members Ron Jackson and Tresham Gregg were also apprehensive. Jackson said Lookout Park’s relocation should be part of the design. Gregg had a list of concerns: the metal breakwater, the expanded parking lot, and the lack of a cost-benefit analysis.
“I’m not happy about the way objections were dealt with along the way, pushed aside without consideration…I’m hoping that all my fears will be unfounded and we’ll have a wonderful harbor,” Gregg said.
The assembly voted 4-2 to approve the harbor design, with Campbell and Gregg opposed.
The other two major discussions at Tuesday’s meeting had to do with remedying the borough’s past errors or commitments.
The borough recently lost an appeal brought forward by resident Paul Nelson. The court found that the borough wrongly charged Nelson multiple times on a nuisance abatement order. Recently, attorneys for the two parties agreed the borough to reimburse Nelson 50 percent of his court costs.
Jackson said that wasn’t enough. He made a motion to reimburse the rest of Nelson’s court fees.
“We have the resources to take people to court and they have to defend themselves,” Jackson said. “It seems unfair that we can do that, when we make a mistake, and not have it all made fair again.”
While most of the assembly members expressed regret about the mistake, they didn’t want to mess with the settlement the lawyers already agreed on. In the end, the motion was rejected.
The other debate stemmed from a commitment made by previous borough manager Dave Sosa. When the Haines Brewing Company was negotiating with the borough to purchase land for their new Main Street location, they discussed the inclusion of property tax exemptions. But that was never included in the contract. At the time, the assembly wanted to draft a policy rather than grant exceptions business-by-business.
“We’ve got to consider that there was a promise made to the Haines Brewery about giving them a tax incentive,” Campbell said.
Assembly member Margaret Friedenauer says it seems there were some problems with how Sosa dealt with the tax incentive discussion.
“Come to find out just recently, the borough attorney would have had major problems with that,” Friedenauer said. “He said that the previous manager had no authority to try to suggest that he could use that in the contract – a property tax incentive for one local business would probably go against state law.”
Friedenauer said if a policy was developed now, there are questions about whether the brewery could be even be included in it under state law.
“I’m gonna make a motion that to deal with the commitment we made the brewery, they deal with the manager and the manager comes up with an alternative incentive that he can legally offer them,” she said.
That brought back the question of whether the borough should be offering an incentive to any one business. Jackson said it could be a ‘slippery slope.’ But in the end, the assembly agreed they needed to try to fulfill the promise Sosa made.
In the meantime, a tax incentive policy drafted by the Government Affairs Committee will go to the Finance Committee for further review. With the brewery issue being handled separately, it’s unclear whether there will be enough motivation to establish such a policy.
In the next few weeks, the assembly will hold several meetings on the budget and the borough manager and police chief search. The next regular assembly meeting is April 26.
Listen to the full assembly meeting: