By Melinda Munson

The Skagway Borough Assembly voted to accept a $2 million donation from Norwegian Cruise Lines on May 3 with the passage of Resolution 21-18R.

Mayor Andrew Cremata described the decision as “kind of a no-brainer.” There was no discussion on the matter and all assembly members voted in the affirmative.

Nowegian donated $10 million to six Southeast Alaska cruise ports, with $2 million designated for Skagway. The funds are a gift described as “no strings attached.” The assembly will decide how to distribute the money to best mitigate the financial devastation of COVID-19.

Unlike last year when residents received individual payouts, the latest round of help is focused mainly on businesses.

The Finance Committee recommended that $1,150,00 fund a small business emergency grant for “businesses whose primary place of business is Skagway.” A Skagway Normal Operations for Wintertime (SNOW) grant would help specific types of year-round businesses at a cost of $500,000. The committee advised that $50,000 go to the Skagway Development Corp. for a utility relief program, $200,000 go to the Skagway Traditional Council and $100,000 be gifted to the food bank.

Assemblymember Sam Bass suggested that at least half of the $2 million should be given to residents.

“What good are having bars and restaurants open if people don’t have any money?” Bass said. Assemblymember Reba Hylton disagreed.

“I really don’t feel the $2 million is enough to repeat what we did last year,” she said, emphasizing supporting small businesses but also proposing that some funds go to those on unemployment.

Assemblymember Dustin Stone had issues with the SNOW program, which he described as a “little exclusionary.”

According to finance chair Steve Burnham, the approximately $7 million the municipality received from CARES funding went mostly to residents, with $6 million paid to individuals and businesses receiving $1.1 million. He reminded the assembly of last year’s promise to focus on businesses should more money become available, and the intense scrutiny the Finance Committee faced.

“Ah, the joys of sitting on the assembly. You can’t even enjoy getting $2 million,” Cremata said.

The assembly will discuss the $2 million at each meeting until a plan is approved. The Finance Committee will consider proposals at their next meeting on May 16 at 7 p.m. Burnham said he expects a drafted resolution in the next six weeks.

“It should be done by the first meeting in July,” Burnham said.

While there is no deadline to spend the money, many residents will run out of unemployment benefits in the fall and Governor Mike Dunleavy’s decision to decline the $300 weekly federal pandemic payments will hit hard in a town with the state’s highest unemployment.  

“I’m already noticing some attrition the last couple of months and it’s not going to get better,” Cremata said.