By Melinda Munson

Skagway residents will have a busy April 18, the first cruise ship day of the season and now a special election. The assembly voted Feb. 16 to include three questions on the ballot, one regarding sales tax and two regarding Dahl Memorial Clinic. 

The voters will decide whether or not to ratify Ordinance 22-10, a proposed increase in sales tax of 1.5%. Traditionally, Skagway enjoys a sales tax holiday during the fall and winter. Food is not taxed.

The ballot question will read:

“Shall the rate of sales tax collected upon sales made and services rendered in Skagway be increased from 5% to 6.5% for increased operational and infrastructure demands during the 2nd and 3rd quarters of each calendar year, April through September?”

Voters can respond “for” or “against.”

Assemblymember Jay Burnham noted that even if the increase passes, “we’re still going to be on an average below 5% sales tax for a yearly average.”

Assemblymember Reba Hylton said that her employer now pays 40% more for food than in 2019, and the municipality is also facing steeper operating costs.

“…I do support this, and voters, I hope you are listening and just do your own homework. It doesn’t mean it’s a scary thing for everyone. We all have our opinions, but I’m glad that the voters get to decide this and it’s not going to be on my shoulders,” she said.

The Skagway Business Association voiced their disapproval of the measure in a Feb. 10 letter to the editor.

“It couldn’t happen at a worse time.” they wrote. “Buildings are vacant; businesses are closing, leaving town or playing musical chairs; properties are devalued; and interest rates, gas and freight prices are skyrocketing again.”

The next two questions on the special ballot pertain to the Dahl Memorial Clinic, embroiled for the past several years over management, staffing and financial issues. The municipality is in the midst of negotiations with Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) for the possible long-term lease of the building and sale of the clinic business. Concurrently, the clinic board is working to improve the clinic, with many of the members hoping to keep it in local hands.

A petition with 149 valid signatures sent the following question to the April ballot:

“The E.A. & Jenny Rasmuson Community Health Center building and the Dahl Memorial Clinic business shall not be leased or sold without ratification by public vote.”

The question on the ballot will be stated exactly as it was presented on the initiative petition.

“I realize the question is difficult to understand because it’s posed as a negative, which means voters against any sale or lease of the Dahl Memorial Clinic will have to vote yes, and voters who are in favor of the sale or lease of the clinic will need to vote no,” Mayor Andrew Cremata said. “However, I maintain that Skagway voters will have no issue understanding this question and vote accordingly.”

The final question, Resolution 23-06R, is designed to gauge voter sentiment regarding the municipality’s current negotiations with SEARHC. 

“Shall the Municipality of Skagway lease the E.A Jenny Rasmuson Community Health Center building and land along with a lease or sale of the Dahl Memorial Clinic business and assets to SEARHC?”

“…I think by having both questions on there, we have very clear information for staff, we have very clear direction as an assembly, and we’ll be able to set sales for a brighter future,” Cremata said.

The municipality plans to schedule a town hall to educate voters about the special election questions.