By Melinda Munson

The assembly unanimously approved a $5 per hour increase for municipal employees, effective for the pay period beginning Aug. 16, with Resolution 22-22R.

Borough Manager Brad Ryan estimated the wage increases will cost the municipality roughly $500,000 per year. Prior to the increase, the lowest wage started at $11.42 per hour.

Currently in Skagway, a gallon of milk is close to $8 per gallon and a newer 1,340 square foot home was advertised for sale in June for $510,000. 

Mayor Andrew Cremata noted the municipality lost their DMV clerk to the private sector, and higher wages, leaving a gap in services that was felt as the tourist season started.

Ryan said other municipalities are raising wages, including Haines. According to the Chilkat Valley News, Haines will spend $1.1 million more on city wages over the next three years. 

“I think this is gonna put us at a very competitive wage at this point. But had we not done this, I think we would have been struggling … the cost of living is so high. We were having trouble drawing people. I think this will put us a touch ahead. Maybe we can draw some folks,” Ryan said.

Assemblymember Orion Hanson pointed out that the higher grades are unlikely to be an issue.

“To be clear, we don’t hire steps seven, or grade seven, eight and nine. We have not posted a job for any of those grades in a very long time,”  he said.

“I think this is long overdue,” said Assemblymember Deb Potter. “We have an incredibly talented and hardworking staff. And things have not been easy in Skagway and we need to do this to make sure that we keep our talented people.”

After the resolution passed, resident Cindy O’Daniel wrote to the assembly with “concerns about borough spending.”

“…I have many friends and family members who are beneficiaries of the recent pay increase that was approved,” she wrote. “I realize the positive impact that has. I also respect and appreciate the desire to do right by your employees. My concern with the way that change to the pay scale happened has more to do with the seemingly limited understanding of how this impacts the municipal budget and how it could impact local businesses (particularly those that employ people year round) and their ability to compete with both the municipal wages and the benefits offered. This was a significant increase in borough expenses implemented in the middle of a fiscal year without knowing, or at least disclosing at the meeting, how the borough was going to fund it. The FY22 general fund budget is already operating at an almost $2 million deficit requiring a subsidy from the CPV fund.”

The Skagway School District also increased pay for some of their employees. After teachers advocated for higher wages for substitutes, the school board voted Aug. 30 to increase compensation for substitutes from $15 to $18 per hour. Those who have ever held a teaching certificate in any state now qualify for $25 per hour.