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Unalaska Continues Debate On Utility Rate Hikes, Commercial Pot

Laura Kraegel

The Unalaska City Council is slowly moving closer to decisions on utility          rat?e hikes and commercial pot regulation. 

At a long meeting Tuesday night, councilors dove deeply into both issues, especially how to pay for upgrades to the treatment facilities for water, wastewater, and solid waste.

They're still considering several possibilities, including raising utility rates, increasing the local sales tax, and borrowing money from the general fund.

Councilor Dave Waldron said it's important to weigh each option carefully, given local and state finances.

"No one expected the crab industry to go the way it did this year," said Waldron. "No one really believed the state was going to be in this financial situation. But people are tired of getting hit with rate increases every time they turn around. They're feeling it, and I think everyone on this council understands that. That's why this is a very difficult subject."

Whatever the council decides, the new rates will go into effect Jan. 1. Meanwhile, councilors are also working on what Unalaska's commercial marijuana industrywill look like. 

On Tuesday, most agreed to give pot businesses the same hours of operation as retail alcohol stores. But there was some disagreement on whether to limit the number of stores allowed.

Some councilors argued the free market should decide, while others said the number should be capped to mirror the island's two alcohol stores. 

"I would hate to see more than two retail stores in our community, because that opens the door for another liquor store." said Councilor Yudelka Leclere. "With a total of two retail [pot] stores, no one would have a monopoly and people would have a choice."

The question of sales tax also generated debate. Several councilors said pot should face the city's standard three percent tax, while others favored higher rates.

Mayor Frank Kelty said imposing additional taxes on marijuana would open the door for raising rates on liquor sales too.

"Alcohol is the biggest problem we have in this town," said Kelty. "If we're going to go above the three percent sales tax [for marijuana], we should take alcohol along with it."

Before the council could raise taxes on pot or alcohol, voters would have to approve the measure in an election. The City Council is holding its next meeting Dec. 13. 

Laura Kraegel reported for KUCB from 2016 until 2020. She was KUCB's news director starting in 2019. We are proud to have her back in the spring of 2023 filling in as an interim reporter for KUCB.
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