City to forgive half of fishermen's memorial debt

Money will come from city's general operating fund

Posted: Monday, July 13, 2009

A 13-year-old debt to the city by an organization that built the Alaska Commercial Fishermen's Memorial should be partially forgiven, the Assembly Finance Committee said Wednesday.

The committee voted in favor of accepting $43,000 from the nonprofit that built the granite memorial on the downtown waterfront. That's about half of nonprofit's outstanding $81,000 debt and leaves the memorial board with about $10,000 to pay for ongoing maintenance.

Memorial board President Bruce Weyhrauch wanted recognition for the memorial's contribution to the city by getting consensus from the Assembly on the debt issue.

"We don't want a kiss-your-aunt resolution, we want full support," he told elected officials.

But Weyhrauch didn't get the unanimous support he sought. The committee voted 6-2 in favor of accepting the offer.

Jonathan Anderson voted against it, saying the memorial board failed to make payments for 10 years despite its account balance.

The memorial board received the $94,060 no-interest city loan in 1996 to finish the $200,000 memorial. The loan ordinance stated it was to be repaid in just under three years, though payments in 1997 and 1998 only totaled about $13,000.

Randy Wanamaker also voted against the offer, but because he supported forgiving the entire debt.

"It's a fitting tribute that the community can afford," he said.

Bob Doll was in favor of the offer and said it could be argued the memorial board saved $60,000 by collecting in-kind donations for the memorial's construction.

When the loan was issued in 1996, then-Mayor Dennis Egan said, "It should have been a city project. The city should have been involved from the get-go."

Weyhrauch had also suggested the memorial board could pay its debt from interest on its $51,800 bank account and additional fund raising. Mayor Bruce Botelho said that approach might take years and wanted the debt taken care of now.

Botelho's support was tempered.

"This is a cautionary tale for how we approach similar requests in the future," he said.

Wednesday's committee vote was a recommendation that the full Assembly will take up. The finance committee is made up of the entire Assembly, though Sara Chambers was absent Wednesday.

The forgiven debt will be paid out of the city's general operating fund, but staff was directed to look into the possibility of using fees collected from cruise ship passengers instead.

The memorial is part of the annual Blessing of the Fleet held on the first Saturday in May.

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or kim.marquis@juneauempire.com.



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