BLIZZARD BROOM

The Sweet Tooth Cafe’s Colette Hisman tries to keep up with the blowing snow drifts from Monday’s blizzard, which filled up phone booths, buried cars, closed the highway, and kept everyone shoveling after two straight weeks of bitter cold temperatures and blasts from the north. Alas, by Wednesday morning, the thermometer had moved above freezing and Skagway folks were hoping it was a sign that spring was finally near.

Photo by Jeff Brady

City-wide pay raises adopted, for now

Pay scale raises for all till studies are done by June 30

By ANDREW CREMATA
City employees will see raises in their next pay checks.
A resolution adopting city-wide pay scale increases was passed by Skagway City Council at the March 1 meeting. The increases will be paid retroactively to Jan. 1, but the resolution will “sunset” on June 30, 2007. At that time, the city hopes to have an independent study concluded which will consider cost of living and wage comparisons to similar job positions in other parts of Southeast Alaska.
This resolution also repealed a previously approved 12-step increase for Skagway Police Department employees, incorporating those increases in the new resolution.
The resolution to adopt the 12-step increase including the sunset date was described by retiring City Manager Bob Ward as “the best interim decision to the wage scale issue.”
While the majority of city employees will receive the interim 12-step increase, seven city positions will not get the full raise. Ward said because the police department’s 12-step increase was based on a pay scale unadjusted since 1996, positions created since that time have already received upgraded pay-scales based on prevailing wages at the time the jobs were created.
The nature of exactly how Ward and his office came to their conclusions for pay scale increases, based on individual department head reports and other factors, remains unclear. Ward said he was reluctant to provide that information, but the nature of the review of the department head reports was critical to the overall decision.
Ward said his staff reviewed the studies and made recommendations for changes, which he reviewed and “considered the rationale for the changes....”
“In some instances I concurred with my staff, in others I concurred with the department head, and in others I disagreed with both and came up with my own conclusion,” said Ward in his report.
Fire Chief Mark Kirko expressed concern over Ward’s approach to the issue at the council meeting. Kirko said he was unclear whether it was the employee or the position receiving the pay increase. He explained his maintenance assistant and EMS responder, who receive a one-step increase in the new resolution, were not new positions, but were three existing part-time positions consolidated into two full-time positions.
He said when the positions were consolidated he was told detailed job descriptions were not necessary, but because it seemed as though job descriptions were a part of Ward’s current analysis, the same criteria should be applied to those jobs as well.
Kirko said via phone after the meeting that his own department research differed greatly from the resolution presented by Ward. He said he compiled his information based on state wage information for Southeast Alaska and added, “a 12-step increase across the board is ridiculous.”
Clinic receptionist Lori Tronrud also expressed concern over the resolution, citing 12-step increases for the city clerk and only an 8-step increase for her position. Ward said it was the nature of the different job descriptions that led to the disparity. He said the clinic only handles billing for one department while the city clerk handles billing for utilities, moorage fees, sales and property tax.
“It is simply a matter of scope,” Ward said.
Tronrud disagreed and said she was responsible for billing many different outlets such as Medicare and Medicaid, and voiced concern over the lack of department evaluation regarding her duties and job description.
Department head input was not always heeded. Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue reported at a previous city council meeting that his wage was accurate compared to others in the region, and he would not need a pay-scale increase. Yet the resolution provided for the full 12-step raise.
Ward said the interim resolution was strictly a “remedy to a perceived inequity.” He said he hoped inconsistencies in the interim wage scale would be remedied when a full independent study regarding cost of living and wage scale comparisons with other communities in Southeast Alaska is completed. The police increases had been based on the department’s own study, which some have disputed.
At a work session to discuss the issue before the last council meeting, new City Manager Alan Sorum said there were really two issues that needed to be addressed. He said a study should be done to establish job classifications, or job descriptions, so the information regarding pay scale comparisons can be accurately applied.
He said a similar study conducted in Valdez, where he was port director, “did more harm than good.... The scars still haven’t healed.”
Sorum said by conducting the study comparing pay scales and cost of living, and then applying that information to a study establishing job classification, hopefully the final result would be one that most city employees would be happy with.
Ward said ultimately the study would make for some very happy people and some very unhappy people, depending on where the study says they should stand regarding wages.
Another issue which could become a problem is the hiring of new personnel during the interim pay period. A person hired during this period could end up receiving a pay cut after the sunset date of the resolution. Postings for new job openings would be required to post the interim wage, and the situation concerning a potential decrease in pay would have to be explained to the potential hire, said Ward.
The resolution does state that the pay rates after June 30 cannot be lower than what employees made in the previous pay scale.
But Police Chief Ray Leggett said not knowing what their wages will be after June 30 was already becoming an issue for police department job applicants. He said via telephone that five different potential hires for summer positions have withdrawn their applications after learning about the potential for a pay cut during the middle of summer.
Ward also spelled out the cost to the city. “The estimated cost, plus benefits, minus PERS for six months at this scale is $221,219,” Ward wrote. “Neither does this include the cost associated with the previously approved police increase, which was $64,000.”
It was decided during the work session that the finance committee would review how to appropriate money from the current budget to pay for the previous police pay raise. Presumably, the same approach will apply to funding the new resolution, but Mayor Tim Bourcy’s original disposition concerning funding the police pay raise was there was no process in place to accomplish this task. Now faced with a substantially larger figure, it is still unclear how, and when, the finance committee will find the money.
Council did make some room in its budget in a separate action.With passage of Resolution 07-05R, one of the former summer police patrol officer positions has been switched to a community service officer seasonal position. It will have an entry level wage of $16.33 per hour compared with the new patrolman entry level wage of $17.63 an hour. The revised position will do mainly foot and bicycle patrols downtown, said Leggett.

No room in Skagway for Alaska travel delegates

City may join Whitehorse, Haines for ATIA bid in 2010

By ANDREW CREMATA
A lack of housing for delegates means Skagway will not host the Alaska Travel Industry Association convention in 2008. The convention was awarded to Skagway in 2005 and it was expected that up to 550 people would be attending the October event.
Still, there is possibility of hosting a portion of a “Golden Circle” event in 2010 if Whitehorse is awarded the convention bid for that year.
ATIA Skagway Chapter president Christy O’Shaughnessy was instrumental in securing the 2008 convention. Past ATIA conventions in Skagway were popular with those who attended. Skagway hosted ATIA conventions in 1984 and 1992, but at that time there were far fewer delegates.
When Skagway was awarded the 2008 convention, a housing shortfall was recognized as a potential hurdle. At the time, it was feared accommodation needs could fall about 300 rooms short, but O’Shaughnessy worked to try and solve the problem in the time since. Unfortunately, those efforts fell short.
“Right now it looks highly unlikely we could host it due to lack of housing,” said O’Shaughnessy by phone. “The town cannot accommodate all the people who would be attending.... A large supplier of rooms cannot support the convention.”
O’Shaughnessy expressed disappointment over the turn of events, as a lot of work went into not only securing the convention, but $3,000-$4,000 was spent traveling to Anchorage and preparing a video of Skagway to show the selection committee.
ATIA President Ron Peck echoed O’Shaughnessy’s comments.
“We’re disappointed that Skagway has to withdraw,” said Peck via telephone from Anchorage. He added people who attended previous conventions in Skagway fondly remembered them.
O’Shaughnessy said she was still excited for the upcoming Southeast Conference in September of this year. Skagway will host around 350 people for the event, mostly political entities.
“It’s pretty big for us,” said O’Shaughnessy.
She added it was hoped that the Southeast Conference would have been a dress-rehearsal for the ATIA convention.
O’Shaughnessy said the ATIA convention would have not only been financially beneficial but would have given Skagwegians a chance to show off their town. “We should be proud of our town,” she said.
Tourism Director Buckwheat Donahue said there could be an opportunity in 2010 to host a portion of the convention. Whitehorse would like to host the event, but thought its chances would improve by including Skagway and Haines in a “Golden Circle” event, since ATIA is an Alaskan organization. Peck said the bid was indeed up for the 2010 convention and encouraged Skagway, Haines and Whitehorse to put together a good bid. He said the ultimate decision would lie with the ATIA Board of Directors. The 2008 convention will now be held in Anchorage. The 2009 convention will be in Fairbanks. Whitehorse is expected to bid on the 2010 convention at this year’s meeting in Juneau in October.

More Tongass trails, not roads

Skagway testimony favors less logging

By JEFF BRADY
Up in Skagway at the northern reaches of Tongass National Forest, keeping land available for recreation and tourism opportunities is a bigger concern than opening up more areas to logging.
Despite Monday’s blizzard, about 15 local residents attended an open house and public hearing on the Tongass Land Resource Management Plan Adjustment Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The EIS was ordered as a result of a 2005 federal appeals court ruling that found various timber demand inadequacies in the 1997 forest plan.
The U.S. Forest Service is taking the DEIS around Southeast this month, presenting land use options in seven alternatives – the higher the alternative, the more land is made available for logging. Alternative 1 would allow 52 million board feet to be cut annually, compared with about 425 million board feet in Alternative 7. The “proposed action” Alternative 6 is similar to the existing “no action” alternative 5. It allows about 275 million board feet to be cut annually and the building of about 430 miles of new logging roads per decade.
None of the plans affect the portions of the Tongass in the Skagway area, where land along Taiya Inlet and east of town and the railroad are designated for recreation. But there are some changes planned in designations closer to Juneau.
According to a USFS handout and maps, the preferred Alternative 6 includes refinements to the boundaries of a number of small old growth reserves (including one at Point St. Mary on the north side of Berners Bay along the proposed Juneau Access road), new geologic special interest areas, a new experimental forest (north of Juneau accessed by the existing road), and conversion of a large area of remote recreation Land Use Designation (LUD) north of Juneau to semi-remote recreation.
The alternative also states that “the vast majority of current roadless areas would remain in a natural condition; however, the majority of roadless areas that contain substantial productive old growth, outside of wilderness, would be partially developed.”
In Alternative 7, favored by Southeast Conference and the timber industry, the latter statement changes to “fully developed.”
The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and most who testified in Skagway were in favor of the lower alternatives with the least timber development.
Beth Peluso of Juneau-based SEACC testified that her members are concerned about increased timber production and feel USFS should focus on three main goals: protecting watersheds, transitioning the timber industry toward cutting of second growth forests, and re-prioritizing spending away from logging and toward fixing up recreation cabins and habitat rehabilitation.
Local resident C.E. Furbish favored Alternative 1 or 2, saying the USFS’ primary concern is timber harvesting instead of multiple use. “It seems out of sync with the times,” she said.
“Pristine, clean water is going to be more valuable,” added Stephen Dobert.
Long-time resident Barbara Kalen said she had been hiking trails around Skagway all her life, adding “the best and finest use for our trails is recreation.”
She urged the Forest Service to look at re-building a bridge over the East Fork of the Skagway River to access the old S Glacier trail from the Denver Glacier trail, and supported the Forest Service partnering with the National Park Service on a trail system into old White Pass City.
“Enjoy the woods, take care of the cabins, take care of the trails,” Kalen said.
Finally, Cory Thole said that with the Tongass making up a sizable portion of the less than three percent of the planet that still is old growth rain forest, “there is no feasible alternative other than number 1.”
He said the Forest Service makes just pennies back on the dollar from timber sales and the money developing more roads would be better spent on other uses that could be enjoyed for future generations.
“There are enough roads in the Tongass,” Thole said. He asked that money be redirected to maintaining existing roads and unblocking culverts for improving salmon habitat, adding that timber harvest should be along existing roads to sustain smaller operations.
The complete DEIS can be viewed at www.tongass-fpadjust.net. Written comments are being accepted via e-mail through the site until April 12, or by regular mail to USDA FS Tongass NF, Federal Building, 648 Mission St., Ketchikan, AK 99901.

COLOR COORDINATED – New city councilmember Tom Cochran wore a garter made by his mother-in-law, Sandy Noack, that matched the gold on his Panther sweatshirt during his first meeting after being appointed to a seat. Jeff Brady

CITY: Lease extension denied, more examination needed
A request by Dan and Eileen Henry to have their waterfront lease extended for the Skagway Fish Co. was voted down at the March 1 Skagway City Council meeting after it was revealed by the city assessor that the Fish Co. and Stowaway Cafe had not been assessed “possessory interest” on their properties leased from the city.
In a Feb. 22 letter, city assessor Charles Horan apologized for the confusion over possessory interest, especially as it related to the two properties, and suggested that all government-leased properties be checked on an annual basis. He then set possessory interest rates for both properties.
The council had put off a decision on the Henry lease extension request (Ordinance 07-04) since the beginning of the year, waiting for enough members present to vote on it. Dan Henry, a city councilmember, cannot vote on this issue. He was not in town for the March 1 meeting, but there were four others in attendance: L.C. Cassidy, Mike Catsi, Mike Korsmo, and Tom Cochran.
Bob Ward filled in one more time in the city manager’s chair, as new City Manager Alan Sorum missed his first meeting, having to leave town early before the highway closed for a pre-arranged family trip to Valdez.
The evaluation of the leased property drew some public comments. Mavis Irene Henricksen submitted a letter (see Feb. 23 issue) and Bert Bounds also said its $9.50 per square foot valuation was low compared with commercial leases downtown. He urged the council to let the Fish Co. lease “ride out” and re-evaluate it.
Ward noted that waterfront leases along Congress Way aren’t like downtown commercial leases, because their “highest and best use” is restricted to restaurants or marine activities.
The original Fish Co. lease was signed to run from 1997 until the end of August 2012. It was modified in 1999 for a 23-foot extension to its current 5,400 square feet. City leases are to be re-evaluated every five years, and in 2005 the valuation was set at $51,300. At the city lease rate of eight percent, the Henrys have been paying $4,104 per year in rent, according to the 2005 lease amendment. It is due to be re-evaluated again in 2009.
However, during their lease periods, neither the Fish Co. nor the Stowaway next door had been assessed “possessory interest” for property tax purposes. Ward said it was an oversight by the assessor, which has since set the Fish Co.’ possessory interest value at $41,700 and the Stowaway’s at $45,200. The figures were calculated at 61 percent of a revised fee simple value of $68,310 for the Fish Co. and 65 percent of a new fee simple value of $69,575 for the Stowaway. The Stowaway’s percentage is higher because it has 11 years remaining on its lease, while the Fish Co. has five.
Horan also explained that the oversight was just that : “On a final note, it has been suggested that the lessees may have had some personal influence over the erroneous value calculations,” Horan wrote. “No one on my staff has had any personal contact with any party of interest to these properties that would influence our values. I point out that these errors were made on both parcels that resulted in low values.”
He said they will start listing all the possessory interest properties on a separate spreadsheet each year, which “will be an adequate control to make sure this type of imbalance doesn’t occur again.”
After all the above was noted, members took up the question of whether to extend the Fish Co. lease another 10 years to 2022. Council had granted similar extension requests in recent years for the Stowaway and Jewell Gardens, Ward noted.
But members still had questions about the valuations and the process for extending leases.
Catsi said the valuations seemed “a little low” compared to what he knows is paid by other restaurants in the city. “It may behoove us to look into it... to keep up with the general increase in commercial values.”
Cochran said he had searched the code book for language on extensions and found only a section on renewal, which allows the lessee to apply for renewal within 90 days of the termination date.
“Extensions are not addressed,” he said. “To me, this (request) should wait until renewal time.”
He added that if the council desires, it can change the code, which also does not address possessory interest. Ward said possessory interest is covered in state law.
Cassidy said they should have more time to review the code, and Catsi said it would be best to kill the ordinance or table it indefinitely, and come back later with something.
The four members present voted unanimously to kill the ordinance on first reading.
Henry was still out of town this week and could not be reached for comment. – JB

CITY: School district requests $157,704

The Skagway City School District has formally asked the city to help cover a shortfall in state funds and additional unforeseen expenditures.
The $122,365 state funding shortfall is a result of a dip in enrollment from a budgeted student count of 107 to a final count last fall of 99.5, according to a Feb. 26 memo from Kathy Pierce, the district’s director of business services.
In addition, there have been “unforeseen expenditures of $35,339 in the form of a student counseling contract, photocopier maintenance contracts, and SERRC grant writing fees,” she wrote, for a final budget deficit of $157,704.
In a letter to the city the same day, accompanied by the memo, Superintendent Michael Dickens wrote that the state shortfall was $157,704, but this confused city councilmembers at their March 1 meeting. They also had an earlier letter from November which said the state shortfall was estimated at $118,427.
Dickens has been out of town the past two weeks at a national conference and for medical leave, so the council decided to wait until his return to clarify the numbers with the city manager.
The city has “rainy day” money in an $800,000 timber reserve fund which could address the school’s shortfall this year. Dickens wrote that the district had been looking at that fund to reestablish the music program next year, but that may have to be put off. Dickens and the district have also been lobbying for a change in the state law that allows districts a one year reprieve from unanticipated enrollment drops.
The most recent letter also addressed some building needs. Council members said there is money in the city budget for one of two new exit doors, and the other would be put on the FY 08 budget so the $30,000 project could be completed this summer. The sprinkler system is also deteriorating after 22 years and needs to be replaced.– JB

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

SACRIFICIAL SALUTE

Erica Harris (left) and Shelby Surdyk pose as American soldiers during ‘For the Good of Mankind.’ See more about the duo's powerful performance about the Marshall Islands and more photos from the annual DDF Showcase in features. Andrew Cremata

• DDF SHOWCASE: Team's powerful performance wins praise from Marshall Islands

• SHS & SKAGWAY ACTIVITIES: Skagway teams get ready for tourney time

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