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Dillingham City Council fails to approve harbor float, city dock forklift repairs

 The Dillingham harbor on May 24, 2023.
Izzy Ross
The Dillingham harbor on May 24, 2023.

The Dillingham City Council failed to approve three items at its special meeting on Monday. The first resolution was to hire Pape Material Handling to repair two city dock forklifts for $145,580. The second item was to approve the purchase of a tow-behind spreader to disperse sand and salt in the winter for $39,825 plus $1,129 in shipping. And the third was to approve funding for four harbor floats at $28,445 each. The council also postponed action on an item to increase the salary of the chief of police position.

The Finance and Budget Committee will hold a workshop to continue discussion of the budget at 7 p.m. tonight after the board of equalization meeting.

The next city council meeting is scheduled for June 1.

Read the May 22 special meeting materials here

KDLG's Christina McDermott talked to Izzy Ross about this decision. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Christina McDermott: The Dillingham City Council failed to pass three big-ticket items at a Dillingham City Council special meeting on Monday. Those items would amount to just over $300,300. For more, Izzy Ross is with me in the studio. Izzy, what can you tell us about the most recent developments?

Izzy Ross: Right. Lots going on at the city offices this week. The council held a special meeting on Monday. The city manager recommended that they adopt all four items. But the council failed to pass three of them and postponed action on a fourth.

The first resolution would have allowed the city to waive its competitive bid process in order to contract a company — Pape Material Handling — to repair the city dock’s forklifts. A memorandum would have allowed the city to purchase a tow-behind spreader. And another memorandum would have authorized the city to repair the harbor floats.

I talked to Councilmembers Kaleb Westfall and Michael Bennett during a break at a Finance and Budget workshop last night. They both voted against those items. They said they wanted more information about the projects before signing off.

Westfall said it was about spending wisely for the city. He also said there was some confusion about the timeline for the harbor float repairs.

Westfall: “It just took a lot of people by surprise that we just didn’t have the information. And there’s still some information that we didn’t have at that meeting that some of us now have today about the process of where those floats are at in getting repaired, and parts and labor etc.”

McDermott: What’s the urgency behind these repairs?

Ross: Well, as anyone who walks down to the harbor can see, the situation is pretty urgent. The current harbor floats are more than 30 years old. Normally, float arms have a rubber bottom that keeps them on top of the water. But Acting City Council Manager Lori Goodell said in a memo that last year, that didn’t work and harbor staff had to pump the floats twice a day. [Her memo said two of the floats would be repaired immediately and two would be repaired after the season.]

Councilmember Michael Bennett says they’d been discussing the forklift and harbor float repairs for months, but there hadn’t been any further action. He says trying to pass all these spending items at once was going a little too fast.

Bennett: “They’ve been talked about in city council meetings, to get those repaired. And nothing has been done to move forward with repairing those. So now the city administration has this knee-jerk reaction: 'The shipping season’s here, the fishing season’s here and we need those repaired.'"

The council was also given information about the harbor forklift repairs earlier this month. They were considering two companies and ended up putting forward a resolution for Pape Material Handling, and not a local company, Statewide Machinery Inc. That’s despite a $17,000 increase in cost. Part of that was because Pape Material deals with that type of forklift, so it would be easier for them to make those repairs since they’re used to working with that brand and that type of equipment.

Bennett wants those repairs to be put out for a competitive bidding process. [He also said that he wants the harbor floats to be repaired, but he feels like the process for deciding to do so isn't clear.]

The council also postponed acting on whether to increase the salary of the chief of police. In a memo to the council, acting city manager Lori Goodell pointed out that the city has been without a chief of police for the past year. The position is currently being advertised at $85 - 90,000. Goodell said the state puts average salary for that position at $116,000.

Councilmember Kaleb Westfall said he didn’t want to consider a salary increase for just one position when there could be increases across the board for city employees in the next fiscal year.

Westfall: “We kind of felt before we jump the gun on one specific position we would get the information in tonight's budget and finance meeting, and it wasn’t an immediate thing that needed to be addressed but it’s on the radar so now we can move forward with better information on how we’re going to move forward on increasing salaries.”

Finance and Budget Workshop

McDermott: So that was the special meeting on Monday. As you mentioned, there was also a Finance and Budget Committee workshop on Tuesday evening. What happened there?

Ross: The committee discussed a partial budget narrative. Finance Director Anita Fuller started off by talking about wages for city employees. The city is considering wage increases of 5 or 10% for the next fiscal year. Fuller said a 10% increase would amount to a $1.7 million increase for wages overall in the coming year.

She said the city is looking at a $2.9 million fund balance deficit — that means it would be in the red if the budget moves forward as it is. That’s partly due to catching up on a lot of projects that have been postponed over the past few years.

Fuller said the city was dealing with a lot of turnover as well, and they’ve tried to address that by splitting up some of the full time positions into part time positions.

One budget item they discussed is IT services, which has an estimated budget of around $301,000.

Fuller said limited internet is hindering the city’s operations. Right now they’re operating with two modems from Nushagak Cooperative — that amounts to about 800 gigabytes a month. But even that’s not enough to meet all of the city’s needs. She said they’re going to start operating on a hybrid system — using Starlink and Nushagak Cooperative internet services. She said they’ll then be able to move a lot of their items to the Cloud, which will save money and make operations easier and more secure.

McDermott: Got it. You mentioned one of the items postponed from Monday’s meeting was an increase in the salary for the chief of police. Did the committee talk about police department funding?

Ross: They did. That breaks down into several different categories. One is the public safety department budget, which is $638,000.

Fuller says the city has still struggled to retain police officers, and they’ve had to rely increasingly on rotational officers coming out to the community, as opposed to local hires. They’re trying to increase the number of police officers to increase support to the department.

That’s partly because local officers and rotational officers work differently. Local officers work every week, while rotational officers work 12 hours a day for two weeks and then leave. And the city has a recruitment bonus for police coming to work in Dillingham as well to try to help increase those officer numbers. But Fuller says even if they increase the wages, Dillingham just doesn’t offer competitive wages for police officers.

During the workshop, Fuller talked about funding to contract someone to look for a new city manager. Right now the permanent city manager, Robert Mawson, is out on extended sick leave. She also touched on the possibility of adding a deputy city manager to help take on that workload. But we haven’t heard anything official about the city manager position yet.

The Finance and Budget Committee will meet again [Thursday] evening after the Board of Equalization meeting.

McDermott: Thanks for that update Izzy.

Ross: Thanks Christina.

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Izzy Ross is the news director at KDLG, the NPR member station in Dillingham. She reports, edits, and hosts stories from around the Bristol Bay region, and collaborates with other radio stations across the state.
Christina McDermott began reporting for KDLG, Dillingham’s NPR member station, in March 2023. Previously, she worked with KCBX News in San Luis Obispo, California, where she focused on local news and cultural stories. She’s passionate about producing evocative, sound-rich work that informs and connects the public.