Fire in the pass

A White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad locomotive suffered an on-board fire as the train headed up the hill away from town on June 9. The flames were put out, the train was backed down the tracks to swap out locomotives and the Skagway Fire Department was called in to investigate.

“With anything like that, we want to be safe first and make sure it doesn’t flare back up,” White Pass Executive Director of Human Resources and Strategic Planning Tyler Rose said. “You can’t be too careful, it’s better to get them [the fire department] in there.”

The fire occurred around the 6-mile mark. Rose said the cause of the fire seemed to be ignition off a heat source.

“It’s a pretty uncommon occurrence,” Rose said. “I think it was definitely a bit of excitement for the passengers there, but it was handled quickly and really well by our staff. Our folks are well-trained and respond well.”


Assembly reduces sales tax holiday to November, December

Skagway’s sales tax holiday has been shrunken. At its June 15 meeting, the Borough Assembly approved a resolution 5-1 – with Assembly Member Jay Burnham against – to abridge the municipality’s sales tax holiday to a period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31.

Borough code allows the assembly to proclaim the sales tax holiday for retail sales from a period between Oct. 1 and March 31, however growing budget concerns have made assembly members take another look at the situation. According to Assembly Member Steve Burnham Jr., the period of time in previous years was shorter – spanning a whole or even partial months only.

“I think the idea of a sales tax holiday should be more of a holiday, and not so much of a six-month vacation,” Steve Burnham said.

He added that continuing to exempt sales tax in November/December provides local businesses with the opportunity to hopefully see more spending during the holidays.

“Rather than all that local revenue going to online,” Steve Burnham said.

Jay Burnham said he’s heard from business owners in town that the holiday is a draw for Canadians, and brings Skagway’s northern neighbors down throughout the winter for shopping. He added that the change from six to two months was drastic, and suggested the reduction be altered to include to the months of October through December.

The suggestion became a motion, but it did not receive a second, leaving it dead on the table.

After the unsupported motion was made, Mayor Mark Schaefer and Steve Burnham commented that the November/December tax holiday had already been incorporated into the Fiscal Year 2018 budget – which the assembly had just spent a decent part of the evening working on getting balanced. The budget, which had just received its third reading by the assembly members, reflects the projected revenue the winter sales tax would provide.

Figures provided by Borough Treasurer Heather Rodig estimate a total of $202,192 in exempted sales tax from the 2016/2017 winter. November/December revenue in 2016 totaled $55,538.

[Editor’s note: The assembly met on Wednesday, June 21 and passed the FY 2018 budget on a fourth and final reading. This meeting occurred on the cusp of press time; a comprehensive look at the FY 2018 budget will be in the July 14 issue of The Skagway News.]


Fourth Street closure for annual block parties

Borough Assembly members have approved a request by the Station Bar & Grill to block off part of Fourth Street for two of its annual block parties. Beth Smith, owner, requested to block off the street directly in front of the Station Bar & Grill and Morning Wood Hotel lobby. It will be closed during the business’s Fourth of July party, from 2 p.m. on July 3 to 8 a.m. on July 5, and will also be closed during the last ship day of the season, where the Station throws a party from 2 p.m.-midnight on September 28.

“In the 14 years, I have thrown these events, I have had no objections from any of my neighbors or community members,” Smith wrote in her letter to the police chief and mayor. Smith was also approved for a noise permit on July 4 and September 28. The Station will have live music outside during the day and evening. She wrote that the music will end at midnight for both events.

“I have notified most of my neighbors and I have not yet had any objections to either the outdoor music or street closure,” Smith wrote.


Rec Center approved for membership price increases

Until recently, the Skagway recreation center had not increased its membership prices since Fiscal Year 2003. The Recreation Board recently proposed new fees to the Borough Assembly, and the changes have been approved. In an email to the assembly members, Katherine Nelson, director of the recreation center, wrote that since 2003 the operating costs have increased, and continue to do so annually.

“In addition, the facility has developed substantially over the past 14 years with a greater number of services offered, an increase in hours of operation during summer and winter months, an increase in the amount of equipment available, and a higher quality of equipment available for use,” Nelson wrote. “This is an increase of approximately an average of 22% of 1.6% annually.”

After restating that the rates haven’t changed in over a decade, Assembly Member Orion Hanson said the changes are “actually pretty modest.” Most of the rates were increased by five to ten dollars per month. A few assembly members also suggested that they should revisit with the Recreation Board every year to re-examine the issue. The changes will take effect July 1 of this year. A chart with the new fees can be found at the front desk inside the recreation center.


NPS to hold free training course

Back by popular demand, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park hosts a free training course on tour content at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 5.

The park is inviting guides, drivers and community members to share information in the park theater at Second Street and Broadway. This follow-up program is designed to set to rest some common myths and legends of Skagway. According to a press release, the goal is to provide accurate, exciting stories and details to share with the visiting public. This opportunity will help those in the tour business to incorporate new material into conversations with tour guests and visitors.

The course has three learning objectives, according to the release:

• Share fun and educational facts and stories with visitors to the community

• Understand key events in the history of Skagway

• Incorporate accurate information that has been researched and verified by historians, scientists, curators, archivists and other experts