By Melinda Munson

After more than two months of discussion and planning, Skagway’s business grant plan, Resolution 20-32R, was passed unanimously by the assembly on Aug. 6. The program, administered by the Skagway Development Corp. (SDC), will distribute $1 million in funds to local businesses.

SDC initially requested $2.5 million for Skagway’s business owners. After the municipality received a high volume of applications for the $1,000 monthly CARES payments, they decided to grant $1 million to the business program. 

Each qualified business can expect to receive between $1,000 to $6,000, depending on the number of owners who apply. Kaitlyn Jared, executive director of SDC, estimated 250-300 businesses will meet the municipality’s criteria.

Initially, the Finance Committee discussed giving businesses that employed residents year-round an additional $250 for each part-time worker and $500 for each full-time worker. That plan was dropped when it no longer seemed supported by the amount of funding. Most of Skagway’s year-round business owners testified at the continuation of the finance meeting, held Aug. 6.

Assemblymember Orion Hanson, owner of Hanson General Contracting, described the decision as “heartless.”

Glacial Coffeehouse owner Shelly O’Boyle was also perturbed.

“It’s extremely upsetting to hear that this per employee (payment) was removed … It’s something to say that I recognize that not only are you here for 12 months out of the year but you employ people who are also here,” she said.

Brad Ryan, borough manager, asked the citizens present if they would consider an abatement of water, sewer and trash as compensation for the loss of the proposed employee payment. Most agreed and the committee voted to direct Ryan to present a proposal at the next meeting.

“When you say small businesses were forgotten about or left behind, it’s not incorrect because we should have had all of this all at once. Instead, it’s second when we’ve already committed money to something else,” said Steve Burnham, finance chair.

The $1 million for business grants, originally expected to be funded from the $7.4 million Skagway received in CARES money, was taken from the municipality’s sales tax fund. Ordinances 20-14 and 20-15 allowed the municipality to put $1 million of CARES funding towards public safety, freeing $1 million in sales tax so businesses don’t have to abide by CARES rules.

“One of the reasons this has taken us too long is trying to eliminate red tape so that we’re not making businesses jump through hoops and bend over backwards to qualify for CARES funding,” Burnham said.

It will be at least a few more weeks until applications for the business grant program are available. 

“…The scope of work for SDC to manage the program was not on the Aug. 6 agenda and that still has to be approved by the assembly. This means we must wait until the next assembly meeting on August 20,” Jared said. 

SDC will process the grant applications and make recommendations to the municipality, which will be in charge of disbursing checks and handling denials and appeals.

Along with possibly forgiving city utilities, the municipality is also considering some form of property tax abatement for small businesses.