Skagway Borough Assemblyman Orion Hanson posed this question at a meeting Thursday night: When do we say no? The assembly was considering a design proposal for yet another major project, a school vocational education building. The assembly said yes to the design contract, but agreed it’s important to ask whether the town can afford its wish list of projects.
It’s a question that’s come up at many meetings before, as the assembly considers a senior center, recreation center expansion, pool, solid waste facility, voc-ed building and more. At this meeting, business owner Lacey Chandonnet was the first to bring it up.
“I just want to challenge you to distinguish between what is a luxury and what is a necessity.”
Chandonnet said she was worried about the financial burden upcoming projects would put on residents, in the form of tax hikes.
Assemblyman Orion Hanson echoed that thought.
“We have a lot of RFPs. We have a lot of projects being discussed here,” Hanson said. “How are we paying for these things?”
The project on the table Thursday was the school voc-ed building. The borough put out a request for proposals, or RFP, for design services.
Assembly member Tim Cochran pointed out that engineering for the voc-ed project is already taken into account in this year’s borough budget. He also said the voc-ed building should help Skagway’s economy in the long-run.
“The big picture here is to get kids that aren’t going to college qualified in trades so that they can work here in Skagway and keep that money here in Skagway year-round, so it does stimulate the economy,” Cochran said.
“I agree with that, I’m not saying that the proposal is poor at all,” Hanson responded. “However, how do we as a body justify we can pay for it? I mean, we don’t have any solutions here about how we can come up with revenue.”
The other assembly members said the borough needs to know how much the voc-ed project will cost before they delve into how to pay for it. The design contract will help outline the potential cost.
The assembly voted 4-1 to approve a design proposal from Architects Alaska. Hanson was the only ‘no’ vote.
The assembly also altered its capital project priority list in hopes that the state will reconsider plans for Skagway’s ferry dock. Right now, the Department of Transportation is set to refurbish the dock later this year. But the assembly hopes that following Gov. Bill Walker’s no road decision, the state may have funds for a new dock instead of a refurbished one.
Business owner Jan Wrentmore brought up the idea of adding the ferry dock to the borough’s priority list, which is submitted to the state legislature for funding assistance.
“Right now they’re planning to just kind of refurbish the old float and I really think that’s a waste of money because you still have an old float,” Wrentmore said.
Gov. Bill Walker recently announced he would not pursue construction of the Juneau Access Road. The assembly wondered whether the Juneau Access funding could be rerouted toward a new Skagway ferry dock.
“This might be our chance to really put this at the forefront of our state legislature,” Hanson said. “Because it is a hot button topic, our ferry dock sank two years ago. It’s a pretty clear need of infrastructure.”
The assembly added ‘ferry floating dock with bow loading capacity’ to its capital projects priorities list to send a message to the legislature.
DOT Spokesman Jeremy Woodrow said Friday that unless the Juneau Access money is re-appropriated for the Skagway dock, DOT does not plan to alter its course. The department is set to put the ferry float refurbishment out to bid in the spring.