During municipal elections this October, Skagway voters may be asked whether they support a bond to fund construction of a senior center and housing facility. The project would provide a year-round gathering place for older residents, and apartments to ease the town’s housing crunch. But it comes with a $7 million price tag. If voters approve the bond, the borough may levy mill rate increases to pay for it.
Skagway has a wish list full of capital projects: a solid waste and recycling facility, a recreation center expansion, and a new water well, to name a few.
At meetings over the past year, officials have wondered how the city can afford all of these investments, including the senior center.
At the same time, Skagway has worked for years to come up with a way to better serve the town’s older population. Michael Baish chairs the ad hoc committee that’s tackled the issue in recent years. He spoke to KHNS about the fledgling project in February.
“We need a place,” Baish said. “We’re about the only small town of our size or smaller that does not have a senior facility.”
The ad hoc committee’s mission to build a year-round senior center that includes housing units is supported by research. Consultant Barbara Sheinberg conducted an assessment last year that found a need for senior housing and services. Sheinberg pointed out that the community’s senior population is set to double in the next decade.
Sheinberg’s study was part of a pre-development grant from the Rasmuson Foundation. Consultants helped identify needs and draw up plans. The senior center, with seven apartments above it, is estimated to cost about $7 million.
Borough Assembly Finance Committee Chair Dan Henry suggested a mechanism to fund the project. The city could take out a bond and pay for it by increasing the mill rate.
“If this was on the ballot and voters said ‘we’re behind the project, we don’t have a problem with retiring the debt by increasing the mill rate,’ then you have your mechanism in place to move forward on the project,” Henry said.
Resident Jennifer Hayes said she is behind the project and the mill rate increase to pay for it.
“You know, we really fund our schools and that’s fantastic, thank you. Why not fund our seniors?” Hayes said. “They’re part of our community, they’ve been here a long, long time, they’ve contributed. I just think we need to take care of them.”
Putting the question on the Oct. 4 ballot isn’t a sure thing yet. An ordinance with the proposal must go through two readings before adoption. The first reading is scheduled for the next assembly meeting on Aug. 18.