The first regularly scheduled Yukon-bound WP&YR train since 1982 arrives in Carcross, Yukon last month in this panoramic image by Yukon photographer Harry Kern. Take a ride on the train from Skagway to Lake Bennett and Carcross with reporter Casey Dean in Features below. Harry Kern
BOROUGH PASSAGE ASSURED
The Municipality of Skagway Borough was passing by a huge 286-14 margin after the initial counting of ballots from the special borough formation election on June 5.
But with approximately 100 ballots left to count from voting in Skagway June 4-5, the mayors race is too close to call. City Councilman Tom Cochran currently leads incumbent Mayor Tim Bourcy by 10 votes, 152-142.
Skagway voters had been casting absentee ballots by mail or delivering them to City Hall since May 18. Voting ended at 5 p.m. on June 5, and the Division of Elections counted what had come in at that point, 304 ballots. But it did not include ballots sent down from Skagway City Hall on Monday and Tuesday. City Clerk Marj Harris said about 100 people voted over those two days. It was very busy, she said.
The Borough Assembly will have at least two new members if the totals hold. Former city councilmember Colette Hisman leads with 229 votes, followed by newcomer Mark Schaefer with 198. Four city council incumbents are clinging to their seats at present: L.C. Cassidy 196, David Hunz 192, Mike Korsmo 180, and Dan Henry 159. Still mathematically in the running are Ed Fairbanks 146, Dennis Corrington 132 and Irene Henricksen 111. The five school board seats are uncontested and totals were not available Tuesday night.
The remaining ballots will be counted on June 15, and the election will be certified on June 20, Harris said. Watch the Skagway News website for final results. JEFF BRADY
Mill rate drops with help from state revenue sharing
Budget still more than $4 million
By JEFF BRADY and CASEY DEAN
A month of committee work sessions has pared down parts of the FY 2008 City of Skagway budget, but a better revenue picture from the state and the clinic will result in lower mill rates for tax payers.
The Skagway City Council heard second reading of the budget on Thursday night after this issue went to press. Number crunching in the proposed budget from first reading to second reading resulted in a change in the Service Area I mill rate from 9.21 to 8.00 mills. Thats lower than last years mill rate of 8.48 in that service area.
However, overall, tax bills are expected to go down about one percent, due to another year of increased property values.
The council met Thursday, May 31 for the Board of Equalization meeting, swiftly adopting and certifying the final property tax roll.
A letter from William Ferguson of Horan & Company, the citys appraisers from Sitka, stated there was a 10 percent increase in land values from last year.
Our data indicated that the strong appreciation of recent years may be starting to slow or stabilize, the letter states.
Mayor Tim Bourcy said the total assessed value of real property in Skagway is $271,632,400. As no appeals were filed, the council voted to adopt and certify the final assessment roll.
Several committee work sessions were held over the past month. At a meeting of the Health, Education and Welfare Committee in late May, Glennette Christian of the Dahl Memorial Clinic informed members that it had a better revenue picture, projecting that service charges would increase from an original figure of $445,000 to $490,000. This resulted in a lower city contribution, said City Manager Alan Sorum, from $567,426 down to $540,527.
The city also will be receiving $115,120 in restored municipal revenue sharing funds and some PERS/TRS relief from the Alaska Legislature (see sidebar on page 3). Together, the improved revenues from the clinic and the state, along with some departmental cuts, caused a total reduction in the proposed budget from $4,329,582 to $4,295,975.
Well be about half a mill down from last year, Sorum said, as he finished up the budget for second reading.
Still built into the budget are increased wages and PERS employee benefit contributions based on wage hikes passed earlier in the year. Those figures could change from second reading to third reading on June 21, based on two classification and pay scale studies the city has commissioned.
Some highlights from the budget, as presented for second reading:
Real property tax revenues reduced from $2,139,939 to $1,745,108. Thats now about one percent less than what the city took in from property taxes in Fiscal Year 2007.
Sales tax contribution to buy down the mill rate increased from $924,367 in the first reading budget to $1,188,471 at second reading. Thats the equivalent of about 4.5 mills, and about 89 percent more than last year.
In special accounts, the Skagway Development Corp. budget was cut by $20,000 to $65,000 at the request of Mayor Bourcy after hearing some audience complaints that SDC should be self-sustaining by now. Lynn Canal Counseling Services received an overall increase to $50,000 after losing a state grant. About $15,000 of that will go into the school budget for services that have been well-received this year. Big Brothers Big Sisters will receive $2,000 and the new Summer Camp at the Rec. Center will receive $2,500.
City Hall administration will go up with the addition of a new employee to take care of tax collections, from $370,000 in FY07 to $512,878 in FY08. Thats about $12,000 lower than at first reading. A health cost reimbursement for all city employees deductibles caused a further increase from $23,325 to $44,050.
In addition to the health center budget, cuts were made to these departments: fire dept. $441,096 (was $460,322); police dept. $873,440 (was $884,000); civic center $249,713 (was $252,000); and tourism $413,114 (was $421,719). Other departmental budgets were the same as at first reading or had minor changes.
The equipment replacement budget is now $566,600 (was $584,000). The big item on the list is $430,200 to replace fire engine #14. A new police vehicle will be purchased for $40,000.
Revenue in the sales tax account is expected to be $5,572,495, up about $75,000 with a transfer in timber receipts for school funding. Sorum said that amount, decided on at the June 1 Committee of the Whole meeting, would offset the citys required school contribution. Overall, sales taxes alone are expected to account for $5 million, up from $4.775 million collected in FY 2007. About $5.3 million will be spent, either on transfers for the school, clinic, equipment and bonding obligations, or for capital projects.
The capital project list totals $3,186,66, up about $50,000 from first reading. About $1.8 million of the list will be funded from grants, and about $1.35 million from sale tax revenues. The larger items on the list are: $990,000 for seawalk (grant reimbursement for work already done); $800,000 for clinic engineering ($300,000 from grant funding); $273,709 for harbor engineering; $160,000 for street maintenance; $100,000 for school sprinkler replacement; and $75,000 for fire hall upgrades. Carrying over from last years budget are $150,000 for sidewalk replacement and $60,000 for a new rifle range.
Copies of the budget are available at City Hall or online at www.skagway.org.
Dahl Memorial Clinic awarded big 330 grant
By CASEY DEAN
Skagways Dahl Memorial Clinic has been approved as a Community Health Center and was awarded $411,333 in grant funds recently by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The City of Skagway has applied for CHC status and the 330 grant previously and had been denied, but the request was approved last month after the city took over full management of the clinic, said Peter Goll, who was hired by the city and clinic to prepare the grant application.
Community Health Centers receive federal funding under section 330 of the Public Health Service Act, according to the Bureau of Primary Health Care website. CHC health providers must be located in or serve a high community need, provide comprehensive primary and supportive care services to all residents of the service area, be governed by a community board with a majority of members being health center patients and meet other performance and accountability requirements, the website states.
The clinic is transitioning from a response-oriented community clinic to a proactive Community Health Center, Goll said, adding that a goal is an open and inviting environment for all citizens of the area.
The grant allots $411,333 each year for the next three years to administrative costs, equipment and a nurse practitioner who will perform house calls, said Mayor Tim Bourcy when he announced the CHC status and 330 grant to the City Council May 31.
The clinic has been working on being able to provide services to people with a long medical history and who cant come in to the clinic, he said.
The grant includes $50,000 for dental equipment, $12,000 for a fetal monitor and incubator, $6,000 for physical therapy equipment and $10,000 for ophthalmology equipment in the first year of the three-year funding cycle. Bourcy said the grant also includes enhanced services and employee training and retention.
Theres a lot to the grant, he said.
The proposed budget from the city included $400,000 per year for the next three years, plus an additional $78,000 for the capital expenses in the first year, Goll said. The city will receive $411,333 in federal funding each year, but year one will likely not be underway until 90 to 120 days into the fiscal year, as it will take time to implement some of the administrative changes.
Bourcy said a lot of work will go into the initial administrative aspects.
Usually, if you administer the program appropriately, these grants oftentimes can continue on, which were hoping for, Bourcy said. The city can apply to renew the grant in three years, Goll said.
Mike Miller makes his way up just one of the many rock faces he scaled along the Lynn Canal. Photo submitted
Rock climbers trek up canal to Skagway, claim its no place for a road from Juneau
By CASEY DEAN
Mike Miller used human power to traverse the east side of Lynn Canal, in part to draw attention to plans for employing machine power along the same route.
Miller said his trek from Juneau to Skagway, made without motor or mapped course, is the first such successful trip.
An avid climber and Lynn Canal enthusiast, Miller said the entire journey was a test of his physical and mental limits.
This was the most intense thing Ive ever done, he said. It was just barely humanly possible.
Miller said his reasons were twofold. He had previously made his way from Juneau to Talkeetna and summited Mount McKinley, and has wanted to traverse the length of the fjord. The journey was also an opportunity to see the area before Alaska Department of Transportation constructs a highway along the canal, stretching from Katzehin to Juneau.
Miller was joined by long-time climbing partner Will Wacker for the five-day expedition from the base of Mount Sinclair at Yeldagalga Creek to the Red Onion Saloon in Skagway. The pair started their trek April 30, and two days later arrived at the Katzehin River, which they swam across. That same day, they ran out of lunches. Three days later May 4 when they arrived in Skagway, they had no more food with them.
We just walked straight into the Red Onion, sat down, ordered nachos, pizza, had a beer, Miller said.
Following his stopover in Skagway, Matt Champol joined Miller for the hike along the west side of Lynn Canal to Lynn Sisters Island.
He said he and Wacker did little planning for the trip, almost choosing not to bring a map. The most difficult aspect turned out to be route finding. He estimated they averaged 3,000 feet of climbing up and down each day to find their way.
We definitely have to admit we underestimated the challenge, he said.
Miller feels DOT has underestimated the roughness and value of that region as well.
We also just wanted to bring a little attention to this road issue Ö its so rugged and so steep and so dangerous, he said. I dont even know if its humanly possible to build a road through this stuff.
Wacker said it was an enlightening experience to see the area from a new perspective.
The magnitude of the terrain was much bigger than I thought it would be. What really struck me, too, was that from the ocean you dont see these things because theyre under a forest canopy, Wacker said. He said after making the voyage, he is a little skeptical of the reasoning behind the construction of the road, citing the waterway as sufficient means of transportation.
Miller added the narrow geography of the habitat would leave wildlife with nowhere to go if a road passes through it, which just doesnt seem fair when we have this (ferry) alternative.
They concluded DOT essentially flagged what is now a wildlife trail for the road, which comes very close to a sea lion rock haul-out, Miller said.
Everything is just so pristine out there, which was just beautiful to see, Miller said. It is very healthy, the whole area, and this road would just devastate all the animals.
Workers erect the steel structure on the new section of the ore terminal. Andrew Cremata
Concentrating on the ore terminal
The welding activity on the new steel at the Skagway Ore Terminal marks another step in the ongoing process to bring life to the long dormant facility.
A press release from Sherwood Copper Corp. said the companys Minto Mine in the Yukon produced its first copper-gold concentrate. The company will work out the kinks in the coming weeks and is expected to reach 50 percent of its production capacity in July. The first ore concentrate shipments are expected to arrive in Skagway sometime in mid-August. In the meantime, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority will continue improvements to the ore terminal facility.
The construction is on schedule, said John Wood, on-site manager for AIDEA, which hired Skagway-based Hamilton Construction to complete the project.
Steel girders have been going up over the past week to frame the new portion of the terminal that will be used by Sherwood.
Wood said the ship loader is being rehabilitated on weekends when no cruise ships are tied to the ore dock. Until the building is complete and ship loading of ore concentrate begins, the copper ore will be stored in bags in a concrete containment area, and covered with tarps. Wood said construction efforts would soon switch from rehabilitation to finishing the concentrate storage building and truck unloading facility, which will have a wash for trucks before they exit the building.
The improvements should be completed by mid- October. After September most of the work will be unnoticeable as AIDEA focuses on final touches. ANDREW CREMATA
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
DANDY DINER A black bear munches on a dandelion stem by the side of the Klondike Highway near the Tutshi River. Andrew Cremata
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