By Melinda Munson

The assembly passed next year’s budget on Dec. 1, taking into consideration two years of COVID-19 and one year of lukewarm recovery. Their fiscal deliberations included the Railroad Dock landslides which hampered 2022 and called into question the number of large ships able to visit Skagway in 2023.

“They passed a balanced budget for 2023 in an incredibly hard year to predict what’s going to happen,” said Borough Manager Brad Ryan. He believed the budget would “keep services intact” with an emphasis on “projects that were necessary.”

The budget is based on projections of 750,000 visitors for next season.

“I think it’s important to be conservative going into 2023,” Ryan said.

While Ryan seemed satisfied with the budget results, Skagway School Superintendent Josh Coughran appeared perturbed during citizens present, prior to the third and final budget reading.

The assembly funded the school to the cap at $2.3 million, but slated $500,000 instead of the additional requested $1.1 million. The extra money was meant to help cover current programs such as student activities, food service, Spanish, preschool, vocational technology and music. The district has approximately $1.1 million in reserves which the state most likely will require to be spent down by 2025.

“I wanted to state upfront that I’m thankful to live in a community that has the capacity to fund our school district to the cap and provide funding above the cap for special revenue funds,” Coughran said. “I’ve been around the state and I fully understand how fortunate we are. That stated, I believe this process was handled poorly,” he said. 

He added he was disappointed by “lack of communication from the municipality.” He said there was, “No phone call from the manager’s office, no email, no heads up that we should attend the meeting.”

Mayor Andrew Cremata implied that the onus is on the entity making the budget request.

“…when you’re asking for 1.1 million, my suggestion would be to have somebody from your staff show up to the meeting, every meeting,” Cremata said. “Because it’s not just the $1.1 million in additional revenue. If you add the rest of it, that was a $3.3 million ask of taxpayer money. So show up. That seems like a no-brainer to me.”

Coughran spoke to what could happen if the $1.1 million request is not fulfilled. 

“If the overall contribution to special revenue funds is $500,000, I know we can cover art, music, preschool, vocational education, food service, technology and student activities next year,” he said.  “But I’m doubtful we could do it the following year and I know we can’t in any subsequent year. It would be helpful to know with a high level of certainty what we can expect year to year so we can adjust and consider which programs we can continue to offer.”

Coughran added that this assembly was the first in 20 years not to fund the school to the cap.

“…last March, given the opportunity to fund the school to the maximum allowable amount, this assembly and mayor, minus Dan Henry, chose not to do so and fell $217,451 short of the cap amount,” he said.

Assemblymember Orion Hanson and Cremata contradicted that assertion.

“We funded what the school asked for,” Hanson said.

Cremata attributed the shortfall to a bookkeeping error on the part of the school.

Assemblymember Dan Henry motioned to raise the 2023 special revenue fund contribution to the requested $1.1 million. No one seconded the move.

“…we have the bare minimum that we feel comfortable as a government to keep the lights on,” Hanson said.

In his remarks, Coughran also stated that he witnessed the assembly “publicly denigrate and question the legitimacy of an extremely well respected organization.” This was in part, reference to Cremata’s remarks during the Nov. 15 meeting that some of the school’s 2022-2023 budget pages were missing. Coughran explained that the pages are numbered by fund, not sequentially.

Coughran invited the assembly to his office and school board meetings. Cremata, for the second time, mentioned a work session between the municipality and the district. 

“It would be really helpful, I think, moving forward, so that we don’t get into scenarios where we feel as though there’s antagonism – because there shouldn’t be,” he said. “This is just appropriation of money in a fiscally responsible way. So I want to make sure that we can all sit down to better understand the school budget…”

Another area in the municipal budget that received increased attention is assembly spending.

“The assembly budget has gone up immensely,” Ryan said. 

The assembly allocation climbed from $734,198 in 2022 to $1,118,187 in 2023. This is due to spending being accounted for in the correct place, such as legal counsel, and spending actually increasing. The assembly now has two employees, a borough clerk and more recently, a deputy clerk. Assembly members are also traveling more to events such as Alaska Municipal League and AME [Mineral] Roundup.

“They want to be engaged,” Ryan said.

The 2023 budget passed with Henry as the sole no vote. The document underwent three public work sessions and three public readings. The approved budget will soon be posted at under government/ quick links.