By Melinda Munson
The Skagway Borough Assembly certified the May 18 special election results at their May 20 meeting. The numbers were decisive, with a sales tax increase being dismissed, the public rejecting a lease of the clinic to Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium (SEARHC) and the sale or lease of the Dahl Memorial Clinic now requiring voter ratification.
Proposition One would have raised sales tax from five to 6.5%, from April to September, “for increased operational and infrastructural demands.” It failed with 220 votes against (56%) and 173 votes in favor (44%).
The Skagway Business Association, formed in 2019 by concerned Skagway business owners, officially opposed the measure.
“We as a business group are against any sales tax increase, especially at the present time. We are already facing record inflation in virtually every area of consumption. We are still reeling from two straight years of severely reduced or zero income, and a 2022 year of compromised income due to the landslide on the railroad dock.”
Assemblymember Dan Henry was visibly disappointed by the proposition’s failure.
“I did not get the message out that our sales tax subsidizes the clinic, the EMS, the fire department, the police department, the rec center, the buy down in the mill rate, your property tax, and so many other things that it makes my head hurt to try and remember them all,” he said. “…I’ve been trying to pick which day and I think I’m centering on Tuesday, when I’m going to go down on the White Pass Dock and panhandle for money. I won’t be busking. I’ll just be panhandling to try and get some money raised, so I can help pay for the clinic…”
The Municipality of Skagway (MOS) will need to keep contributing to the clinic because voters smacked down Proposition 3, an advisory question asking if the MOS should lease the clinic to SEARHC and allow SEARHC to assume clinic operations.
Seventy-four percent of voters (294) were against the change. Twenty-four percent (96) voted in favor of SEARHC.
“Rarely, I think, do you see an election where you have an issue that gets an overwhelming vote,” said Mayor Andrew Cremata. “So, loud message from the community that they want this body to do whatever we have to do to fund the clinic. So I think that should be our intent moving forward … So, clear messages are good, makes our job a lot easier. Budget time, it might be a little more complicated. But right now, it’s clear direction, and in my opinion, during budget time, the clinic’s a priority.”
The results for Proposition 2 were also definitive. Placed on the ballot by initiative petition it read: “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.”
With 317 votes for (80%) and 75 votes against (19%), the assembly will now need voter permission to lease or sell the clinic building.
Dahl Clinic Interim Executive Director Thomas Steiner’s contract was unanimously extended through October 2023. Normally a point of frustration on the part of some assembly members as the interim director costs the municipality approximately $150,000 every three months, there were no complaints when the contract was extended at the April 20 meeting.