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The LegHead Report

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Fish Radio with Laine Welch

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Galley Tables

May 22 2015
Kodiak Unemployment Among Lowest in State
Friday, 22 May 2015
Jay Barrett/KMXT
The state Department of Labor has released its April unemployment figures, and as is usual when fishing picks up, the number of people with jobs has increased.

The department pegs the statewide rate at 6.7 percent, down from 7.5 in March and 7.1 a year earlier. 

Kodiak remains a community with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, at 4.7 percent. That compares to 5.1 in March and 5.5 a year ago.

In hard numbers, 313 Kodiak residents are seeking work, compared to 339 in March. Statewide, 25,319 are unemployed, down nearly two thousand from March.

The highest unemployment rates, in the teens and in one case into the 20s, are limited to villages in wide swaths of bush Alaska. 
May 22 2015
Tusty Making First Run to Unalaska This Weekend
Friday, 22 May 2015
Emily Schwing
The Alaska state Ferry Tustumena spent at least five extra days off the water and missed its first scheduled sailing earlier this month, but it is headed for Unalaska this weekend. 

Jeremy Woodrow is a spokesman with the Alaska Department of Transportation. He says repairs were made to a water main line essential in the event of a fire on the Tustumena.  He says pieces of steel in the car deck on the 51-year old ship were also replaced.

“Those are just items that come along with the age of the vessel," Woodrow said. "That actually emphasizes why we’re working on designing a replacement for the ferry and we’ll actually be working on replacing the Tustumena in the near future.”

Woodrow says a final design for a replacement ship should be completed by the end of December.

But whether a new ferry becomes a reality is in question. In February, the legislature proposed a 10 percent reduction in funding to the ferry system. 

In response, earlier this month, Governor Bill Walker transferred $5.5 million dollars from this year’s fuel fund to next year’s operating budget for the ferry system.  That money was included in a spending plan lawmakers already passed.

But as legislators continue to spar of the state’s budget, Woodrow says it’s unclear what might happen to the ferry system if Alaska’s state government shuts down.  

“It’s too early to say whether the ferry system will or will not be impacted it’s a process that’s unprecedented and therefore we’re going through new territory in terms of what can and can’t be done,” he said.

Woodrow says the Department of Transportation is working with the Governor’s administration to identify ‘essential services.’
May 22 2015
Borough Assembly Discusses Proposed Budget
Friday, 22 May 2015
Kayla Desroches/KMXT

The Kodiak Island Borough Assembly and public heard the proposed fiscal year 2016 budget at its regular meeting last night. Finance director Karl Short addressed different influences on budget, including the investments the borough would be making on various projects like the Landfill Lateral Expansion. 

“The landfill’s gonna be about 3 million 768 thousand a year," says Short. "We are finishing up that work that 32 million dollar project, and so what we’re proposing is a 15% rate increase, which sounds like a lot of money, but when you look at your bill for picking up your refuse, it’s gonna go up a small amount. Just take last month’s bill and multiply it by 1.15, and it’s not that large.”

When Short says “... it's not that large,” he means the increase will be lower than 15 percent because of the drop in fuel prices and the Consumer Price Index.

Borough Assembly members expressed interest in recycling and possible savings the Borough could gain from it. Engineering and Facilities Director Robert Tucker says they’re looking at not only shipping recyclable materials off the island, but also making use of some of them. 

“Such as tires and glass," says Tucker. "They can actually be crushed or shredded and used as cover for the landfill so it doesn’t fill the landfill, but we can actually use it instead of making rock. So, there’s a couple of different ways that we’re gonna try to actually do something with this over the next year or so.”

The Borough Assembly also discussed a resolution establishing the minimum amount of funds for the Kodiak Island Borough School District’s 2016 fiscal year. Assemblyman Aaron Griffin made a motion related to the resolution.

“I would like to move that we adjust the mill rate to 8.85 mills as the minimum, which would give a level funding of 10 million 620 thousand dollars estimated direct contribution and in-kind services plus the 280 thousand other vehicle tax, which would take us to a total of 10 million 912 thousand dollars.”

Assemblyman Dan Rohrer said he would vote no on the motion.

“Over the last two years, we’ve greatly increased the amount of money we gave to nonprofits and the Kodiak Island Borough School District and at this point at time, we simply can’t afford that in my opinion, because what we’re sacrificing is the long-term viability of the building you’re sitting in as well as other facilities in the borough," says Rohrer.

Assemblywoman Rebecca Skinner says, although she anticipates the assembly will come back and give the school district more once it has a firmer handle on its own budget, she agrees with Rohrer’s decision.

“I’m just not comfortable committing to a larger amount right now for the school district when we have increasing debt that the borough has to pay and there’s reduced funding from the state, reduced federal funding available. The funding is tight all around," says Skinner.

The motion to increase the mill rate and school funding failed four-to-two, with Griffin and Assemblywoman Chris Lynch voting in favor. Immediately after that vote, the resolution to fund the Kodiak Island Borough School District at $10,320,000 passed five-to-one, with Griffin dissenting.

The Borough Assembly’s next regular meeting is scheduled for June 4.
May 21 2015
Blondin Agrees to Plea Deal in McGriff
Thursday, 21 May 2015
Jay Barrett/KMXT
A Kodiak man will spend at least four years in prison for killing another man in a hit-and-run that occurred on Pillar Mountain Road in 2008. 

According to Kodiak court documents, 27-year-old Bradford Blondin has pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in the death of 43-year-old Justin McGriff in April 2008.

Blondin agreed Tuesday to the plea deal in exchange for a 10 year sentence with six years suspended. If the judge agrees to the deal at the sentencing hearing in August, two other charges stemming from the hit-and-run will be dropped. Blondin will then serve 10 years probation.

McGriff, a dishwasher at a local restaurant, was living in a tent on Pillar Mountain, on the edge of downtown Kodiak, at the time of his death. He was last seen by a taxi driver who dropped him off on Pillar Mountain Road in the early morning hours. McGriff's body was found by neighbors around 6:30 that same morning.

The state medical examiner said at the time that McGriff likely would have survived the impact if he had received prompt medical treatment. The coroner ruled the death a homicide.

Police seized Blondin's truck shortly after the incident, but it took over four years for authorities to charge him, partially due to the long-standing back up at the state crime lab. Blondin was indicted in November 2012.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for August 27th, where the judge can accept or reject the plea deal between Blondin and the state. 
May 21 2015
Alaska Fisheries Report
Thursday, 21 May 2015

6.41 MB | Download MP3 | Open in popup


Coming up this week, a look at salmon fry heading out to sea, learning where salmon come from by looking in their ears, and Petersburg's new dock gets dedicated. We had help from KFSK's Joe Viechnicki in Petersburg, KTOO's Matt Miller in Juneau and KDLG's Hanna Colton in Dillingham.  

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