Oct. 2 elections see pool project questions voted against

Three advisory questions pertaining to a Recreation Center Expansion and pool project received “no” votes on the majority of ballots in the Oct. 2 municipal election.

The questions were supposed to gauge public support of the potential projects.

First on the ballot was a question regarding the expansion project (without a pool component) at an estimated cost of $7,000,000. This initially had more “yes” votes, but the absentee ballots ended up making the results come in with 213 no, and 208 yes.

The second question asked if voters would support an expansion with a pool project, estimated at a cost of $18,500,000. This received 249 votes against, and 173 votes for.

The third question on the ballot asked if voters would support a one-percent sales tax increase for funding design, engineering and expansion of a Recreation Center expansion. This received 245 “no” votes, and 178 votes in support.

The two incumbents in the Borough Assembly race retained their seats; Jay Burnham and Steve Burnham Jr. were elected for another three years, receiving 249 votes and 293 votes, respectively. Roger Griffin, the other candidate in that race, received 193 votes.

“Congratulations to assemblymen Steve and Jay Burnham on your re-election to the assembly, and I look forward to working with you both this coming year,” Skagway Mayor Monica Carlson said at the Oct. 4 assembly meeting. Incumbent John Hischer received 379 votes in the race for the two School Board seats, and write-in candidate Alanna Lawson got 125 votes. The assembly certified the election results at the Oct. 4 meeting. On that same night, 25-year Election Board veteran Barb Brodersen announced she was handing the reigns of election chairperson to Mark Larsen, who helped co-chair the Oct. 2 elections. Brodersen said it has been an honor to sit on the board for the last 25 years, 15 of which she served as election chair for. She thanked Borough Clerk/Co-Borough Manager Emily Deach for helping the voting process run smoothly every year, and informed the assembly that Larsen would be taking over in the future.

“So guess what? Barb doesn’t have to get up at 4:15 a.m. next year – don’t plan on me being here early, Mark,” Brodersen said, adding it has been a “fun adventure.”

Short-term rentals ordinance passes first reading

An amendment to municipal code has been brought forward by the Borough Assembly on Oct. 4 to apply the eight percent hotel room tax to short-term rentals.

The change would remove the “hotel room tax” moniker, changing it to an eight percent short-term rental tax. It removes specifics related to hotel rooms, instead stipulating that overnight accommodations of less than 30 days are subject to the fee.

Furthermore, it defines overnight accommodations as a room, group of rooms or building in which someone may live or stay and does not include recreational vehicle parks or camping areas.

The amendment states it is the duty of the person furnishing the rentals to collect the tax from the consumer and provide it to the borough.

“We discussed the VRBO/Air BnB issue half through half the summer, and this seemed like something that we could all at least get on the same page on more immediately,” Assembly Member Steve Burnham Jr. said.

Following a long period of discussion by the Planning & Zoning Commission, the assembly had taken several stabs at an ordinance regulating short-term rentals – also called vacation rentals – over the past six months, but each attempt resulted in the ordinance failing. Some of the hotel owners from around town had asked the assembly to regulate short-term rentals, but the assembly and proposed ordinances also received pushback for portraying short-term rentals in what was described as a negative light and artificially restricting businesses.

Adopting wording to ensure short-term rental operators pay the eight percent tax has long been a part of those discussions.

“I think in terms of equitable taxation this is kind of basic,” Assembly Member Orion Hanson said. The ordinance passed 6-0 on first reading on Oct. 4.

Event coming to remember Lynn Canal shipwreck

To honor the SS Princess Sophia and the 100th anniversary of its sinking, a set of commemorative events will be held on Oct. 20 in memory of the 360 lives lost when the steam ship went beneath the waters of the Lynn Canal.

The day will cap off several years of work put in by the Princess Sophia Ad Hoc Committee. The first wave of results from the committee came at the beginning of summer, with the unveiling of a new display pod – complete with interactive touch screens and audio exhibits – which spent the 2018 cruise season at the Skagway Museum. That exhibit has been temporarily moved to the White Pass & Yukon Route depot, with several of its audio components going up for a larger exhibit on the Sophia in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

Oct. 20 will mark the finish of the committee’s second wave of projects. A bronze plaque honoring the passengers killed in the tragedy will be placed in Centennial Park, affixed to a rock donated by Hamilton Construction.

Alongside it, a storyboard will be installed, featuring information on the District Collector of U.S. Customs John Pugh, who was a well-known public official of the time. It will also have a timeline and a map marking locations of key events during the sinking, from Oct. 23-25, 1918.

“It was a long two days that started with it leaving here late, then going off-course in a storm down past Haines and then eventually hitting the rock, Vanderbilt Reef, and sitting on it for 40 hours,” Sophia committee member Jeff Brady said. “Waiting to either float off or for the weather to get better so all the boats that were standing by could rescue them.

“Of course none of that was able to happen, and it turned on the reef and around five o’clock on the 25th of October, and that was it. Within an hour everybody was gone.”

In July, Juneau put a permanent memorial to the Sophia up at Eagle Beach, and Dawson City – where many of the victims hailed from – has had a monument to the disaster for several years now.

Not many other monuments to the sinking exist in the north, however, and despite the lives lost, the Sophia is a relatively unknown event, said Brady.

“We thought that Skagway should have one as well, because the ship, this was it’s last known port,” Brady said.

David Leverton, executive director of the British Columbia Maritime Museum, will be speaking at the Oct. 20 event; Brady said Leverton had helped unite a number of people wanting to commemorate the sinking of the ship. The Maritime Museum has a large Sophia exhibit of its own, which was recently on display in Juneau and will be opening in Whitehorse on Oct. 25.