Money was the subject at Thursday’s Skagway assembly meeting – money for a public safety building, for a new rec center and maybe a pool, and money for the Gateway Project. The discussion, at times, turned heated.
Assemblyman and finance chair Dan Henry kicked things off with a discussion about the public safety building bond. Skagway voters last fall approved a $12 million bond for a new facility. But they also voted down the idea of increasing summer sales tax to pay for the bond. Henry said Thursday the city may again consider raising the sales tax to pay for upcoming projects.
Henry said one reason that ballot question might have failed was that the sales tax increase would bring in more money than was needed to pay the bond.
“The resistance factor was what that additional money was going to be doing.”
So, he said, maybe the city should look at using that extra money for other projects, like the rec center expansion and pool.
Manager Scott Hahn said having the two questions on the same ballot may have been confusing. He said without knowing for sure if the bond to construct the building would pass, some voters probably hesitated to support a sales tax increase.
“If they knew they were already going to have a facility, maybe they would have had a different opinion on the sales tax because they wouldn’t have wanted it to come out in property tax,” Hahn said. “But no one knew that because the votes were at the same time.”
The assembly did not take any action. The public safety building project is moving forward with the bond approved by voters.
There was also a lengthy discussion about the Gateway Port Project at the meeting. It started with Henry trying to refute recent scuttlebutt he said distorted how the project is being funded. He says the state money, bonds and grants for the project do not represent money the Skagway municipality has to put toward it.
“Somehow that’s being communicated to the community that it’s the community’s project,” Henry said. “We’re not paying for it. We don’t need to pay for it. There is a great deal of private money that certainly would be willing to participate in funding the facility. So as it’s being represented that we would take on the burden of a $20, $40, $80 million dollar project just doesn’t have one shred of truth to it.”
But ports commission chair Tim Bourcy challenged Henry on that point during public comment.
“I just want to be very clear that as long as we’re dispelling myths and rumors, we are definitely involved in port development and we will continue to be and to say we aren’t paying for it is completely incorrect.”
Bourcy asked the assembly to appropriate $10 million from the city’s Commercial Vessel Passenger tax reserves to the project. The CVP tax fund currently sits at $16 million. Bourcy said that appropriation would signal a commitment by the municipality and help the commission go after more grant money and buy in from private companies.
“If this is the direction we want to go then we can take that and go to the stake holders and say ‘This is our skin in the game. You’re a stakeholder, we want you to be a part of the project. What can you put into it?’” Bourcy said. “I can’t go into a room with a Budweiser napkin and draw out Gateway for people.”
Bourcy asked the assembly to make that motion Thursday to include a line item in the proposed budget. But before that could happen, Gary Hanson said that motion would fail. With only four members present at the meeting, Hanson’s opposition would have killed the motion.
Assembly member Steve Burnham made another point – there is no project, nothing to spend money on, if the lease with White Pass isn’t approved by the company, by the assembly and most importantly if the voters. Schaefer said a final lease could come before the assembly at its June 4th meeting.
Mayor Schaefer set a special meeting for this Thursday after the board of equalization to discuss the Gateway priorities from the port commission and whether to allocate any funds to it. That meeting is set for 5:30 on Thursday in assembly chambers.