SLAMMIN’ SALMON

The ice sculpture “Circle of Life” by Skagway artists Peter Lucchetti, Bruce Schindler and Ken Graham won the Artist’s Choice award at the annual Sourdough Rendezvous in Whitehorse last weekend. The whimsical take on a man in a boat being gobbled up by a salmon was also a hit among the audience, which voted the sculpture second best at the festival in Shipyards Park. Among the raves was an invitation to participate in a Breckenridge, Colo. contest.

Photo by Bruce Schindler

Audit issues on the mend

By JEFF BRADY
The borough’s Finance Committee and Treasurer Cindy O’Daniel met last week via teleconference with a representative of the firm of Peterson Sullivan to go over measures to correct “internal control deficiencies” that had been identified in a recent audit letter.
While waiting for auditor Nathan Hartman to call in from Seattle, the committee took care of the police department checking issue by instructing O’Daniel to close the account and “write a check to Chief (Ray) Leggett.”
The so-called “patch account” had been identified as being in conflict with borough code because it was not part of the general ledger, and could be subject to possible fraudulent use. Cash from patch sales had been in a drawer when Leggett arrived two years ago, and he received permission to have it placed in a then-inactive checking account that had previously been used for a drug-buying sting operation. But the latest audit had problems with it, and Mayor Tom Cochran said O’Daniel needed direction.
O’Daniel said the account had $933.70 in it when the police department took it back over, and the latest bank statement balance was $3,252.08. Committee members instructed her to just write a check for the difference to Leggett after getting an updated balance from the bank.
O’Daniel asked if a note should be attached to the check that it should go toward an association – similar to the Skagway Fire Association. But Finance chair Dan Henry said “that should be a separate conversation.... I don’t particularly care to monitor it.”
Leggett was out of town for the meeting, but this week said the money will go back into a monitored cigar box for now, while the department sets up an association for its fund-raising patch account.
In an overview on the rest of the auditor’s letter, O’Daniel said most of the comments dealt with new audit standards which prevent the auditors from coming in and plugging in updates to second quarter sales tax receivables. Most of those amounts come in after the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
“We just have to make sure we do it before the auditor gets here (in August or September),” she said.
Hartman echoed this: “It’s an issue of having things ready when we get there,” he said, adding that property additions also need to be capitalized in the general fund before they arrive. He said budgeted transfers, such as money moved annually from sales tax into the tourism account, need an entry.
Hartman also outlined what was needed to ensure better grant tracking, having one person reconciling the grant accounts on a regular basis to the general ledger. O’Daniel said this would be set up with her doing the administering. She also said the suggested capital project fund had already been set up when the FY 08 budget was adopted. A second person at the borough offices also is involved with the handling of money coming in, as noted by the auditors.
Henry and others at the table were puzzled why the state gets access to unclaimed checks from the borough after three years, but Hartman said that’s the way it is in Washington as well.
Henry asked if the committee would get “shot” for its decision on the police checkng account. To this, Hartman replied, “Not for that dollar amount,” adding that the best thing is to “get rid of it.”
The committee also discussed having a new system for dealing with employee per diem on government and training trips. Currently borough employees must bring in all their meal receipts to get their reimbursement, but Cochran has said that is unreasonable.
Borough Manager Alan Sorum said the state and IRS have a limit of $42 a day for meals and incidentals without it being taxable income. The committee agreed to make the new per diem rate part of an upcoming revamp of the personnel policy.

Steering toward a ‘balance’ of opinions on residency, comp. plan revisions

By ANDREW CREMATA

What exactly is a year-round local, or a winter resident? Someone physically living in Skagway from December to February with kids in school and a monthly home heating oil bill will be quick to answer. However, those on an extended vacation still paying property tax during the same time frame might have a different response.
This was just one question tackled at the Feb. 20 Steering Committee meeting for Skagway’s Comprehensive Plan rewrite. The focus of the meeting was to discuss changes to sections dealing with quality of life, local government overview, and an upcoming community opinion survey.
Committee members all said they wanted the plan to focus on the word “balance.” This was especially true when dealing with topics concerning tourism versus other areas of the economy such as port development for ore shipping. It was also a key factor when dealing with jobs, recreation, and economic growth compared to its environmental impact.
Input from members of the audience included comments from Jan Wrentmore calling for the plan to focus on Skagway’s “northern lifestyle,” and Mike Korsmo’s admonition to keep issues concerning port development “well rounded” but unspecific.
Information presented by project manager Barb Sheinberg of Sheinberg Associates indicated Skagway was above average when it comes to the overall wealth of the community.
“You are extremely fortunate,” said Sheinberg, who presented a municipal budget review comparison with other Alaska communities. The report showed 2007 tax revenues for Skagway yielded a per person revenue of almost $8,400. Comparatively, the statewide average is $1,523 per person, excluding the skewed statistics from the North Slope Borough.
“This paints one rosy picture after another,” she said, adding how that money was spent presented one of the most challenging issues. “You can look at these numbers and feel fortunate to be living in a community like this.”
Most of the meeting was devoted to the opinion survey. Sheinberg hopes to conduct a resident survey which will target individuals as opposed to single households. The phone survey will take place in late April and the increased sampling data from individuals should help to paint a more complete overall picture of the needs and concerns of Skagwegians.
Sheinberg said the April time frame would be beneficial as most residents would be in town and would negate the need to dig deep for winter phone numbers for those out of town.
A lengthy discussion followed when Sheinberg asked the question, “Who’s (in Skagway) now – who are the real winter residents?”
Input from the steering committee indicated a desire to pull out seasonal resident surveys when certain issues were involved. Some of the reasons included seasonal persons not paying property tax, lack of involvement in issues, and not understanding the nature of living within one’s means to survive a winter in town.
Many committee members stressed it was not to negate seasonal residents’ opinions, but rather to be able to separate them from year-round resident surveys for a more compete overall picture.
Committee member Wayne Greenstreet said seasonal residents’ opinions counted, but year-round residents are the ones “minding the store” when they are not here.
Korsmo pointed out that, due to work, he fell into a category of someone who may not be in Skagway all the time during the winter, but still paid for the privilege. He said there would be others who fell into the same category.
Sheinberg said it was important to narrow the options for response to the question in the survey to ensure statistical accuracy.
Eventually, the decision was made to offer three options to the question, “On average, how many months a year do you live in Skagway?” Responders will be given the choice of 0-6 months, 7-9 months, and 10-12 months.
Wrentmore suggested a follow up question be asked concerning why people choose to leave during the winter. The committee agreed to include the question.
The rest of the meeting was devoted to fine tuning other aspects of the survey including housing needs and quality of life. The committee’s next meeting is March 19.

Moving on to Plan B
Employees, assembly agree on higher scale

By ANDREW CREMATA and JEFF BRADY
Two pay scales prepared by the municipality were presented to the Skagway Borough Assembly at the Feb. 21 meeting for incorporation with a job classification study conducted independently over the last year. The acceptance of one of the options by the assembly marks the final step in the ongoing process to develop an updated city-wide pay scale.
Almost.
Two options were presented by Borough Manager Alan Sorum. Differences between the two options focused mainly on a one grade difference – that is, someone with a grade of 10 in plan A would make the same amount as someone graded to be an 11 in plan B.
Assembly member Dan Henry said that under plan A, 19 employees would get less than the temporary wage, while under plan B, 10 would make less. Sorum said none would make less than what they made prior to start of the process and added he also wanted to add an extra step because it had taken a year to complete the process.
The temporary wage established last year will continue until the new budget cycle begins on July 1. The new pay scale will officially be adopted by resolution at an upcoming meeting.
Sorum said the new pay scale was intended to start with the new fiscal year, and Henry asked if there is money in the budget to continue the interim scale until June 30. Sorum said there was, and he wants to put the step increases in after the fiscal year, then treat them as merit increases on employee anniversaries, and also build in Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).
Sorum said it had been five years since the last pay scale review. “It went way too long with no adjustments.”
Mayor Tom Cochran said all the employees he talked to were “unanimous behind plan B.” He said when the temporary pay scale was adopted, people were pleased while the municipality “worked it out with a disinterested third party to take the personalities out of it.”
He added that a lot of hard work went into the effort and thought the majority of the 37 municipal employees would be happy with the results.
Sorum said via telephone later that the new pay scale represents an overall 27 percent increase over the original.
“I’m sure there will be some transitional headaches,” he said regarding plugging in part-time city employees in the coming months but, “Next year will be a lot simpler.”
One city employee has yet to have an accurate job classification completed. At the Jan. 24 assembly meeting, Sorum said the position of Visitor Information Specialist would be revisited as the job description was inaccurate when compared to the duties of current jobholder Marlene McCluskey, who has held the position for three years. On the new pay scale the position is ranked at level 11.
McCluskey said via telephone the job description did not include her duties that go beyond the desk.
“Over the years it’s morphed into something more,” she said.
She said some of her additional responsibilities include taking out advertisements when multiple company agents come into town at the same time, as well as more managerial duties.
“The position has accrued a lot of responsibility over the years,” and added a more current job description was prepared and sent to the borough.
Sorum said after the current pay scale resolution was passed by the assembly, a separate resolution would be presented including McCluskey’s updated job description. The updated description will then be inserted into the pay scale. Sorum said the changes for the position would go into effect with all the other municipality employees on July 1.

Additional year, same pay for Borough Manager Alan Sorum
By JEFF BRADY
The Skagway Borough Assembly gave its blessing to renewing a contract with Manager Alan Sorum for another year. Sorum will be paid the same salary as his first year – $90,000 – but will receive an additional 10 days of annual leave.
Assembly member Dan Henry, part of the negotiating committee, said the borough was not ready to offer a three-year contract, as it had done with some previous managers. He noted that the manager before Sorum, Bob Ward, had a pair of one-year contracts before becoming a regular city employee.
“We agreed a one year agreement by both parties would be acceptable,” Henry said. “Not to say that down the road we could have a longer contract.... I hope we find ourselves as comfortable in another year.”
Mayor Tom Cochran said he would look forward to a longer contract term in the future, and Mike Korsmo said assembly members all gave Sorum a “pretty good” evaluation.
This week, Sorum said he “pretty much” was happy with the outcome.
“I signed on for a year (when he took the job) to see how things would work. It looks like they like my performance and are looking forward to working with me toward a longer term contract next year.”
When asked to assess the year ahead, he said a lot of people don’t realize how bright the future is here.
“The port will be a bright spot,” he said. “You have an assembly that really cares about its employees. I’ve been at other cities and it’s really positive here.”
He said the payscale issue is proceeding and almost behind them, the 330 health grant is completed, and it will be on to big projects like the clinic construction, harbor wave barrier, and the new water station
“For a town of this size there are some remarkable things happening,” he said.
icant.

Borough: Non-food sales tax clarified
The assembly passed first reading of Ordinance 08-08 which clarified for businesses the exemption on the sales tax of food items passed by voters last fall.
The exemption applies only to foods that qualify under the Federal Food Stamp program. Under the ordinance, eligible businesses must either be registered with the federal program, such as the grocery store, or have staple food sales that account for more than half of their total sales. Not included as staples are accessory foods like coffee, tea, cocoa, soda, non-carbonated drinks, candy, condiment, spices, and hot or prepared foods, including sandwiches.
Fairway Market owner Ed Fairbanks had questions but was assured the new ordinance would not affect his store or computer system, which is set up to exempt items from the federal program list. Borough Clerk Marj Harris said the ordinance was drafted after the borough received calls from several smaller stores that sell candy bars and other items.
“People need to know the rules before they open up,” she said. A mailer recently was sent to all businesses. – JB

School: More money in budget
The Skagway School Board approved its mid-year budget revision Feb. 26, showing additional revenues of $168,375. Of this, $70,000 was the timber receipts money from the borough to restart the music program, but a fall enrollment bump from 100 to 105.9 students accounted for additional state revenues of $95,635 and there were $2,740 in additional borough revenues.
Kathy Pierce, director of business services, gave a list of 20 line item changes to the school board. There were $113,907 in additional expenditures, leaving a current operating fund excess of $54,468. Some of this is due to the recent technology teacher resignation. The district is advertising for a new teacher to finish the year out, and if one is hired, then that excess will go down and be reflected in the final budget revision at the end of the year.
One additional expenditure approved by the board was $4,900 for Rose Environmental of Seattle to come up and do an air quality survey in the school. There have been problems in the science room which have caused allergic reactions among some students, but staff have been unable to pinpoint the source.
Looking ahead, the district is allowed up to 10 percent of its budget to carry over to the next year. Superintendent Michael Dickens said the district will probably budget for 100 students again, but hope for more exchange students.
In partnership with other northern Southeast districts, Dickens is applying for a federal Safe Schools / Healthy Students grant which could boost the Skagway coffers by about $200,000 a year over the next three years. – JB

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

SKI CLUBBING – Coach John Briner and pupil Amanda Jensen cruise on the tracks at Log Cabin last weekend. Conditions were great. The club will be meeting Saturdays at 11 a.m. at Log Cabin until the Buckwheat Skl Classic on March 22.

Photo by Jeff Brady

• SCIENCE FEATURE: Mercury rising in arctic, and not in good way

• SPORTS & REC: Southeast 2A Tourney Hoops preview, teams fall at Yakutat

To read all the stories in the News, including complete borough and school digests, letters and commentary, police and court reports, and view our many advertisers for Skagway products and services, you must subscribe to the real thing. Out of town subscriptions cost $35 per year for second class mail, $45 for first class mail. Send a check to Skagway News, Box 498, Skagway, AK 99840 or call us at 907-983-2354 with a credit card number.