By Melinda Munson

The first reading of the 2023 budget on October 3 included a proposed increase in property tax to fund Skagway School’s request for $1.1 million above the cap. 

In the updated budget, the school is fully funded at $2.3 million, plus an additional $1.1 million, which Coughran said represented no new expenditures. 

“…our intent with this budget was to demonstrate that this is what it costs to run the programs that we run,” he said. 

According to Borough Manager Brad Ryan, who was directed by the assembly to find a way to budget the extra $1.1 million, the money covers student activities, food service, Spanish, preschool, vocational technology and music.

Coughran said the funds “represent about nine employees. We have a staff of roughly 30, so it’s just shy of a third of our staff that we might not be able to offer jobs.”

After negotiations, the school pledged $290,420 from its roughly $1 million rainy day fund. To cover the rest of the requested $1.1 million, Ryan proposed increasing the property tax mill rate by 1.00, about a $330 increase to a home valued at $400,000, according to Assemblymember Sam Bass. In addition, one of the three locum providers for Dahl Memorial Clinic was removed from the budget and the number of registered nurses was reduced by half.

Ryan said he preferred to raise money by an increase in sales tax, but was not authorized to do so.

Assembly members reacted negatively to the proposed mill increase and the idea of cutting staff at the clinic.

While assemblymember Deb Potter praised Skagway School, which consistently tests highest in the state, she resisted the idea of a rise in property tax.

 “…the folks that I have communicated with are overwhelmingly opposed to property tax increases,” she said. “It’s been obviously a really hard three years … to put that kind of tax on our already struggling business community is not something that I’m prepared to do.”

Cremata took exception to cutting clinic staff, and the amount of the school’s request.

“I’ve worked on a lot of budgets,” Cremata said. “And I’ve never seen a budget process where you said, ‘Well, we’re getting rid of nine jobs if we don’t give us everything we want.’ If you want to save jobs, there are ways of looking at your budget with more discretion to figure out a better way to use the money rather than just putting a line out there. That sounds like extortion,” he said.

Cremata also noted that the municipality dished out $2.7 million for a school kitchen addition, which should be functioning early next year.

Rocky Outcalt didn’t cite the school request specifically, but cautioned the municipality about overspending during citizens present.

“…in my own home, I have to live by a budget,” he said. “And I know we have a budget for the city. But to me, it looks like a pretty expensive budget …  Some of those things seem kind of out of sight, and when times are lean, I eat hamburger. And I don’t always get a steak. And I think we need to look at that as a community that we probably need to get a little more hamburger right now.”

Coughran said that without the additional funds, he can’t guarantee stability to his staff.

“I want you to understand the gravity of what that would mean. I want you to understand that those programs would be on the block. And once we lose those programs, and I’m not able to employ a music teacher, or a preschool teacher, or a food service director, it’s gonna be really difficult to get those people back,” he said.

The 2023 budget is affected by the landslides at Railroad Dock and the uncertainty of how many ships will be able to dock next season.

“…we really went into this budget conservatively based on what’s going to happen in 2023,” Ryan said. He estimated 750,000 passengers, or 60% capacity.

“…sometimes we do need to eat hamburger. I just don’t want to make the kids eat hamburger,” Assemblymember Sam Bass said. “I think there’s other places that we can cut to come up with these funds.”

The assembly approved the budget’s first reading. A second of three readings is scheduled for Nov. 17 at 7 p.m.