Assembly approves agreement with Skagway Development Corp.

Arrangements have been made by the Municipality of Skagway to distribute funds for Fiscal Year 2019 to Skagway Development Corporation (SDC), following approval of the lightly revised June 22 draft of the memorandum of agreement (MOA) at the July 5 Borough Assembly meeting. Despite a unanimous vote by the assembly to approve the document, SDC’s executive director, Kaitlyn Jared, voiced her board’s concerns over business confidentiality among up-and-coming business owners and ex-officio members that will be present for the purpose of transparency for the public. SDC Board President Tim Bourcy is not satisfied with the final document, and said he hopes to find a creative solution that will assist both parties.

“We don’t want to be in an adversarial position but at the same time we have to protect the confidentiality of people that we are trying to assist and we will do that,” Bourcy said in an interview with The Skagway News. “I think there is a little bit of confusion on the part of the assembly on what this economic development branch is. They are viewing it more as an arm of government and it’s not.”

Jared addressed the assembly early in the evening on July 5 about a letter that was written by SDC’s board members, which floated potential concerns after reviewing the MOA revisions that were passed at the June 21 assembly meeting.

Later in the evening Steve Burnham Jr., assembly member and Finance Committee chair, moved to adopt the June 22 draft of the SDC MOA with the municipality of Skagway. He cited only a few cosmetic changes to the document which were suggested by the borough attorney.

In addition, Burnham called for an abbreviation change of “MOA” to “MOU” in the first paragraph of the agreement. This secondary motion passed 6-0.

Resuming discussion of the main motion, Assembly Member Orion Hanson invited Jared to speak in front of the assembly to provide further comment about the organization’s privacy concerns.

“In reading the executive director’s comments I guess I don’t understand what the SDC’s perspective is, what’s so confidential?” Hanson asked. “What would be so private that you would protect it the way you would protect attorney/client privilege or a doctor’s discussion with provision?”

Jared responded to Hanson, expressing that board members of the SDC fear community members will forgo help if SDC’s privacy standard is compromised.

“There are some people that absolutely do not want any piece of their business idea spread around in the fear that someone else will swoop in and take up the idea as they are developing,” Jared said.

Jared specifically questioned whether or not it would be possible for an ex-officio member to sign the same confidentiality agreement that the board is required to sign, considering their unique role in attendance as a public figure.

Hanson followed up with a series of questions, with his main goal being to maintain transparency for the Skagway community.

“There are probably a lot of things talked [about] at the clinic board that you know, it’s not aired out in these chambers,” Hanson said, referring to Assembly Member Tim Cochran’s role as assembly liason for the Dahl Memorial Clinic. “I don’t quite see where the conflict of having an open meeting is something the SDC should not be transparent about. That’s where I am confused.”

Members of the assembly continued with the patient-doctor confidentiality metaphor to assess what level of privacy would fulfill the basic needs of the SDC.

As Assembly Member Dan Henry pointed out in this metaphor, Jared would be dealing with the patient while Cochran’s meetings only deal with the administrative side of the clinic.

Jared replied by saying the clinic board would likely never result in a discussion about a patient because the clinic does not turn patients away, however, the SDC can and has refused to help from time-to-time if it would go against the SDC mission.

Ultimately Jared stressed the importance of being able to confirm or deny interest in a client with the board prior to agreeing to a project. Whether a potential client receives a yes or no from the board, this idea of shared information makes many businesses uncomfortable.

Burnham then redirected the conversation by comparing the pursuits of Skagway’s municipality to the memorandum of agreement between  the Haines Economic Development Corporation and Haines municipality. Inspired by the Haines document, Burnham motioned to include language that says, “Executive sessions may be held pursuant to Alaska’s open meeting act (AS 44.62.310)” within the draft as a way to offer more security for SDC’s clients. The motion passed 5-1.

Subsequently, the main motion passed 6-0.

Although the agreement has been approved by the assembly, Bourcy says that the SDC board has not truly signed off on the MOA just yet. At the time of the interview, Bourcy said that he plans to hold an SDC board meeting by the end of the week to determine its next move.

Skagway opts into PILT class action lawsuit

Skagway will be joining with a large group of communities in Alaska to sue the federal government for underpaying communities in service of the Payment In Lieu of Taxes Act (PILT).

PILT is a form of monetary compensation that local governments receive in an effort to offset property tax revenue lost as a result of multiple non-taxable federally-owned lands within their boundaries, which includes land such as National Park Service properties.

Skagway has utilized this program for over a decade. A recent study has tallied up the total amount owed to the state for 2015 through 2017. A calculation of the amount owed to Skagway has not been determined.

The July 5 Finance Committee and Borough Assembly meetings both addressed this class action lawsuit and weighed the benefits and consequences of opting in, however, no information that suggests a negative impact on the community has been presented at this time.

Borough Manager Scott Hahn opened the discussion at the assembly meeting, reiterating that there is enough evidence to suggest that the United States has underpaid each of these counties that are eligible and in use of PILT.

“It is very likely there is money there,” Hahn said. “The agreement states that there won’t be any out-of-pocket money, that doesn’t mean necessarily that the attorneys won’t take a chunk of it.

“There is really no risk for us to not get involved with this and go along with the class action lawsuit.”

Assembly Member Orion Hanson wondered if a move of this nature could hold political consequences. Hahn assured Hanson that these lawsuits happen often, and that the federal government does not take it personally.

Following Assembly Member Steve Burnham Jr.’s motion to opt-in for the class action lawsuit, Assembly Member Jay Burnham posed another question to Hahn.

“Do you feel we have been underpaid?” Jay Burnham asked.

Hahn said he would have no clue where to begin assessing that possibility and therefore had no opinion on the matter.

Steve Burnham added to the conversation by referencing the case precedent from Kane County, Utah, which sued the United States because they felt the government didn’t appropriate funds to pay them their Payment In Lieu of Taxes.

“Even though they didn’t budget for it they [are] still owed it and they won in court and so that’s where this class action lawsuit comes from,” Steve Burnham said. “There is a precedent.

“Consequently it doesn’t really matter what we think. Unless Congress changes the act to say that it should be less [money], then it’s not less.”

The general sentiment of the Finance Committee fell in line with Steve Burnham’s last remark at the finance meeting, stating that “it could be nothing, could be something.”

Mayor Monica Carlson announced roll call and the motion passed by a vote of 6-0.

The deadline to fill out and submit paperwork is Sept. 14. This lawsuit required a response or the town would have automatically been opted out.

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Track team to hold fundraiser

The Skagway School Track and Field team will be sponsoring a 24-hour Run-A-Thon on Aug. 18 as a fundraiser to help build a long jump pit. According to track coach Kent Fielding, the team will be will asking for individuals to pledge the number of miles run by students, asking for sponsors for the long jump pit and doing a 50-50 raffle where participants can guess the number of miles down to the tenth (or hundredth) of a mile.

-DF