City council continues effort to create strategic plan

Some city services affected by budget reductions, city manager asks for patience

Cordova’s city government spent most of January trying to come up with a strategic plan to provide for the community’s sustainable future.

After a number of special work sessions and city council meetings, a release date for the draft of the plan was still in the works, but the council had numerous ideas on the table to move forward with.

They may consider reviewing the city’s tax exemptions, researching education funding alternatives and finding ways to fully fund Cordova’s schools for the long haul, and help Cordova’s health services become more self-sustaining.

Also on the table are possible talks about long term health care options in Cordova, marketing the Mt. Eyak Ski Hill for year-around use by creating tent platforms and bike trails, building a sidewalk from the ferry terminal to Railroad Avenue and to the Copper River Highway, creating a Mile 5 RV park on the Copper River Highway, expanding the city’s boat haul out facilities, discuss city building usage and sharing city services with other entities.

What could result during the strategic planning process is the creation a long list of possible local budget funding solutions

“These are all ideas that people and council have about new projects, and about projects which have been discussed in the past, and they would like to talk about further,” said City Manager Alan Lanning. “We haven’t done anything yet – these are just ideas.”

“Once we have the categories of ideas done and put together, this then creates a big book of possibilities that we’ll then further mash down into solid ideas, that have been decided on that will add to Cordova’s economic stability,” he said.

“It has been a very positive process, well attended by the public and organizational representatives from Cordova,” said Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin. “There has been public praise for the workshop structure that allows public participation and input, and requests for opportunities to provide more formal contributions to the process. This will be encouraged once a draft has been developed,” he said.

South harbor rebuild plans

Rebuilding the city’s 34-year old south harbor was addressed at the regular Jan. 18 council meeting. Passed unanimously by council members that evening, City of Cordova Resolution 1-17-02 authorizes Lanning to seek funding sources in the amount up to $20 million for a new south harbor.

Now more than three decades old, the south harbor was designed in 1982 and constructed in 1983, Lanning said, and needs to be completely rebuilt.

Lanning said he, the mayor, and city employees, are currently in the process of preparing a federal funding request.

The estimated price tag for the project is $18 million and change, as of Sept. 16, Lanning said, per an assessment report prepared by PND Engineers, Inc., of Anchorage.

The council agreed to a $20 million cap on funding to account for inflation and changes which may occur in the interim.

“The federal funding request will go to the legislative delegation nationally. We’re preparing the letter, and the proposal and justification for that funding,” Lanning said.

Koplin said he’s been working with city harbormaster, Tony Schinella,  Lanning, and Cordova District Fishermen United, to garner support for “the city council’s top capital priority – the south harbor rebuild.”

Reduced city services

Other changes in effect at the city include reduced services and operational hours, a direct result of the city’s FY17 budget cuts.

The FY17 city operating budget of $14,415,542, passed Dec. 21, was short by approximately $860,000, primarily due to the reduction in federal timber receipts and less money coming in from raw fish taxes, due to the poor 2016 commercial fishing season.

Now the city is looking for ways to operate under the shortfall.

Lanning confirmed that the city’s snow removal budget has been reduced by 50 percent, resulting in less snow plowing and sanding on city streets, and that the Cordova Historical Museum has reduced its hours through April 1, open just four days a week, Wednesday-Saturday.

Bidarki Recreational Center is also changing some of its programs and hours to adjust to cuts in the parks and recreation budget, per the city’s newsletter issued Jan. 30.
“What this is going to do is help us live within our means,” Lanning said. “First, we need to understand that this is a process. We had to cut out some state funding due to the state budget crisis, as well as remove federal funding from the budget which wasn’t reauthorized. We can’t count on that any longer. This is what our budget looks like right now, without those funding sources,” Lanning said.

“This is not a single-year fix. This is going to take several years to get to a point where we can provide an acceptable level of services to the community based on funding which we know is reliable – and reliable funding are fees and taxes which we raise locally. It’s going to take some time,” Lanning said.

It’s also going to take patience, he said, but with a dedicated group of people who work for the city and are determined to make adjustments and provide good services, it can be done.

“It won’t always be pretty, but we’re going to do our best to always provide good services to the community,” he said.

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Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson is a staff writer and photographer for The Cordova Times. She has been writing in one form or another for 30-plus years and has had a longstanding relationship with The Cordova Times starting in 1989. She's been an Alaskan since 1976 and first moved to Cordova in 1978. She's lived in various West Texas towns; in Denver, Colorado; in McGrath, Cordova, Galena, Kodiak, Wasilla, Anchorage and Fairbanks, Alaska and in Bangalore, India. She has two children and three grandchildren. She can be reached at cgibbens-stimson@thecordovatimes.com or follow her on Instagram @alaskatoindia.