By DAN FOX
Skagway’s Development Corporation (SDC) and the Chamber of Commerce seem set to receive $87,400 and $30,000 respectively in the municipality’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget – though the SDC’s money may come with some strings attached. Funds for Recreation Center expansion engineering, while debated at-length, are still currently included in the 2019 Capital Improvement Projects list.
During the Borough Assembly’s second reading of the FY 2019 budget on May 17, the group accepted proposed amendments including community funding requests for KHNS Public Radio ($20,000), a match for a van for Southeast Senior Services ($87,400), daycare assistance ($20,000) and the Princess Sophia commemorative project for Centennial Park ($10,000).
Then the assembly veered off into discussion territory as the topic turned to the SDC’s community funding request.
Assembly Member David Brena once more made the case that the borough should adopt an in-house approach to grant writing and take closer control of it.
“I don’t think we’ve had any control over the grants, as much control as I think we need,” Brena said.
Assembly Member Jay Burnham said it seems the assembly is expecting something from the SDC that it never asked for, and that SDC should just be given more direction by the municipality.
An amendment to the budget funding the SDC by $87,400 was approved 5-1, with Brena against.
“I’m supporting it because I think the community has told us that they would like it, and I think as long as we’re committed to making sure [we can see what] our money is going towards, then great,” Assembly Member Steve Burnham Jr. said. “But I do agree with Dave that we need to try to do more grant work in house.”
Mayor Monica Carlson said she would have a hard time funding both the SDC and hiring for a grant-writing position in the municipality.
“That’s a lot of money, I just feel like we have to decide one or the other, because I personally don’t feel that the city can afford both,” Carlson said.
At the very end of the May 17 meeting, Steve Burnham successfully motioned that the funds not be released without a memorandum of understanding in place between the municipality and the SDC.
The Chamber of Commerce’s request was next on the list, and $30,000 were earmarked for it without extensive discussion.
“The Chamber of Commerce I think has value, I think in this day and age it can no longer operate on all volunteers, it used to,” Assembly Member Tim Cochran said. “They do a great job on the Fourth of July, on the two Clean Sweeps, Spring Stroll, Shop in Skagway.”
The motion to amend and include that money into the budget for the chamber was approved 6-0.
During the public comments portion of the meeting, a number of people commented on the $1,412,928 figure for engineering aimed at a Recreation Center expansion.
Casey Sheridan, who was appointed to the Recreation Board later that night, said the Recreation Center is a nice facility, but that it is inadequate for the demand in the summertime. Sheridan encouraged the assembly to leave the expansion funds in the budget, and suggested providing 24-hour limited access to the facility.
“I know others…some were not in favor of the pool being part of that expansion, and I would encourage you to reconsider,” Sheridan said.
When the assembly got around to that topic during its budget discussion, Assembly Member Orion Hanson recalled a vote from last summer, where the assembly had voted against sending the subject of a Recreation Center expansion to the voters in a 2-4 split.
“I still believe that should go to the voters if we’re going to invest the amount of money it takes to just get the engineering for the rec center, I think we need to have community support behind it,” Hanson said. “And I still to this day don’t exactly understand why we did not send this to the voters and put it on the ballot.”
Assembly Member Dan Henry said he didn’t see the point of deleting it from the budget, that the project could remain in and retain its momentum, and that the assembly could seek the community’s affirmation of the project in “a lot of different ways.”
“Quite frankly we’ve heard from the community multiple times on this issue,” Henry said. “To me, it’s crystal clear.”
Jay Burnham said he’d be in favor of leaving the money in the budget, that he doesn’t “think that we would be spending it all tomorrow.”
“I don’t think that it would be something that would just be frivolously spent,” Jay Burnham said.
Steve Burnham said a public vote over the swimming pool portion of the expansion project was appropriate, but that he has not heard many people speaking against a general expansion to the Recreation Center.
“They would like a larger weight room, they would like larger aerobic areas, they would like more autonomy to just go in there and exercise,” Steve Burnham said.
Steve Burnham proposed leaving $500,000 in the budget for expansion engineering, with the option of later adding the pool into the designs if the community is amenable.
A motion to remove the entire Recreation Center Expansion budget line item failed. Steve Burnham made his motion to shift all but $500,000 from the budget item, but that motion failed to get enough votes as well, and the group moved on without any further action on the expansion.
Finally, and on a different subject, the assembly looked at adding $180,000 to the budget for a port director/planner position. Brena made the motion for the addition to the budget: $120,000 for salary, and $60,000 in related expenses.
In response, Steve Burnham said he felt the money would be better spent on a consultant or a port planning firm.
Brena replied that once a consultant’s job is finished, the working relationship ends and the municipality would still then need a port director. The motioned failed 2-4, with Brena and Cochran for.
Following that, the assembly approved the budget’s second reading. It will return to the table for a third reading at the next assembly meeting on June 7.