DOG DRIVE

Even dogs got into the act of raising money for the Fran Delisle Breast Cancer Awareness Walk-a-thon on June 7. S.M.A.R.T. buses provided free service to not only humans, but pooches too. See more pictures on the Walk-A-Thon page. DL

FYO4 budget passes

Some requests go down the tube, others added; downtown taxation rate holds at 7.78 mills

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
The special City Council meeting Monday night produced some changes to the FY2004 budget amount, but the mill rates remains at: Service Area I, 7.78 mills; SA II, 6.42; SA II, 5.13; SA IV, 3.35; and, SA V 1.40 .
However, the actual amount of the Fiscal Year 2004 budget will not be known until next week, as City Treasurer Cindy O’Daniel was out for the week. The budget was posted at $11,310,716 after its second and third readings on June 5 and 9.
At Monday’s meeting, Ed Fairbanks, former mayor and City Council finance chairman, again voiced his opposition to the city’s Fiscal Year 2004 budget during public comment.
“The city is outspending the rate of inflation,” said Fairbanks.
Reminding the Council that the city once went bankrupt, Fairbanks’ parting words were: “I think it was Jesus who said as they were nailing him to the cross, ‘Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.’ And that’s what I say to you.”
Colette Hisman hoped they would be frugal, and said the clinic budget was fine, but not the fish hatchery.
Gayla Hites also didn’t support a city-run hatchery or the taking over of the clinic, saying that the city shouldn’t go into anything the private sector could provide. She also questioned the $100,000 line item for “McCabe legal,” and City Manager Bob Ward explained that was the contractual fee for legal services. Steve Hites wanted to know how much it would cost for the city to settle the lawsuit over the McCabe renovation contract with ABC Construction in Anchorage. Ward said he couldn’t discuss that because the city was in litigation. June 5, Hites had said he was against spending money for the pedestrian bridge, and that the city already had an acceptable bridge.
And Tom Cochran said the budget grew every year, and wanted to know when it would end. He asked the Council to consider cutting funds for training and travel. Cochran said the city was lucky it had tourism to pay for education, as elsewhere it was paid by property tax.
Councilmember J. Frey said although the Council did drop the $2 million earmarked for the flood control project, he was concerned the city may be creating an infrastructure it can’t support.
Ward said he had resigned from the Southeast Conference, and that would save travel expenses, and that Council salaries had been reduced.
With the state possibly zeroing out municipal revenue sharing and safe community funding, Bourcy said the city would be out $59,000 for both. Ward said the revenue sharing had already been taken out of the budget as it had been anticipated.
During discussion of the Skagway Medical Clinic’s takeover by the city, Mielke said that the privately-owned Klondike Medical Clinic had 162 patients. He questioned the need for the amount of staff at the city clinic of three providers, one a temporary summer position.
However, when asked during a break, Clinic Administrator Shawn Keef said they keep a strict record of what files have been asked to be transferred. He said there have been 79 requests for copies of patients’ records to be made, and that 35 are still waiting to be picked up. That left 44 patients who have transferred their files, Keef said.
Mielke said he couldn’t support the budget with the $800,000 clinic funding included. Councilmemebrs Mike Catsi and Mike Korsmo said they would stand behind clinic funding.
“I’ve been deeply involved in the clinic since it began to unravel,” said Mayor Tim Bourcy. “...We signed on to at least try something.”
The Fire Department’s budget was axed by $250,000. Removed was the fire station envisioned for the Dyea Road. Skagway Volunteer Fire Department Chief Martin Beckner said he’d written a grant for a tanker for the Dyea station, and that it required it be housed in a heated building. But it was cut anyway, with the possibility of it coming back for discussion in the future.
The Skagway Convention & Visitors Bureau budget was approved along with a $30,000 supplemental funding for marketing. Tourism Buckwheat Donahue said marketing for rubber tire traffic and independent travelers has not been active in the past few years. Donahue said he’d proposed several plans to the Council during his budget review last month.
The Council’s attention turned to the $82,000 proposed to support the Skagway Development Corp. City Councilmember Mike Catsi abstained as he is employed by the SDC.
Councilmember John Mielke said when he was mayor that economic development support was supposed to be a one-time deal.
The vote was 3 for (Councilmembers Dave Hunz, Dan Henry, Korsmo), 2 against, and one abstention, and the motion to approve the SDC money failed. However, a later vote for reconsideration passed, and discussion centered around what SDC can do.
“I’ve been working with Wells Fargo for the land for the new clinic, and we need a private non-profit to go for the land,” said Bourcy. Wells Fargo may donate land at Fourteenth and State.
“I’d like to see SDC stand alone,” said Henry.
With Mielke voting no, Catsi abstaining and the rest yes, the motion to restore SDC’s funding passed.
The vote was to pass the FY 04 budget as amended was 5-1, with Mielke voting no.
On Tuesday, Bert Bounds faxed out a letter saying he thought the budget was in violation of a city ordinance that requires amendments to the budget to be posted five days before a meeting.
In response, City Clerk Marj Harris said the budget was introduced April 24 with the initial assessment of what the budget would look like, and then was amended at various public committee meetings.
“The mill rate has not changed,” Harris said. “We posted it over and over again.”

Board of Equalization supports some appeals
Questions assessment methodology and fairness

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
While the majority of people appealing their assessments took to the back rows at the Board of Equalization meeting on May 29, they eventually had to take to the microphone up front to be on the record. The City Council meets as the Board of Equalization in a special meeting.
“We did make a lot of drastic changes this year, and it brought out a lot of appeals, as we expected,” said Charles Horan, a principal in the appraisal company of Horan & Corak in Sitka.
He said the average lot, assessed at $28,000 before 2001, sold for $32,000. In 2001, it jumped to $46,000, and in 2002, $50,000-$55,000. In 2002, Horan figured they were assessing too low according to the market rate. Under state law, the city has to assess property as close to the fair market rate as possible.
“This is our report to the state assessor,” said Horan. “This is what you’ve hired us to do.”
He said it took four or five sales in a year to determine what was selling, and for what price. In Skagway, typically, the prices have gone up 20-30 percent for property and 50 percent for land.
“We spend a lot of time calling buyers and sellers,” Horan said.
Answering a question whether the quality of a house is taken into account, Horan said, “You betcha.” He said he tried to get into every house in the mid-90s to get an idea of the condition and the builder’s craftsmanship.
But Board member J. Frey said he had problems with the assessments.
“There have been properties moving and some that will never move,” said Frey. “How do you deal with that?”
“I’ve made changes for several that are selling less than assessed,” Horan said. “If there’s market evidence, then we’ll correct it.”
“I’m surprised, because we’re out of property,” said Board member John Mielke. “It seems like it’s unfair because Daddy Warbucks can come in and buy property (and) we’re caught up in it.”
Horan said Skagway’s property values are high, but he’s been assessing property here for more than 25 years, and he’s seen property values go down. As for house values, he said the average house is not high compared to other towns.
Mayor Tim Bourcy asked if the development of the Mental Health acreage on the hillside will affect land values.
“If we could predict that, we could retire,” said Horan. “The more lots, the better.”
Board member Dan Henry said he was surprised how high the city lottery lots went for.
“We don’t guess, we do it when we have good statistical evidence,” said Horan. He did say he didn’t think the market could sustain the rise in property values.
Horan changed assessment on several properties the night of the meeting when owners showed evidence their property was worth less. In the case of Services Unlimited, it was a state Department of Environmental Conservation letter requesting that some test holes be drilled in the area of the old gas tank to see if any contaminated soil was left after a new tank was installed.
Gene Richards over at Burro Creek also saw his assessment reduced because of the state of the buildings and its non-functioning hatchery, Horan said.
Perhaps the most heated discussion came over a request from Holannd America Line-Westours, owner of the Westmark Inn, to lower its assessment. Prior to the meeting, it had been lowered from $6,606,000 to $4,437,000 and then to $3.5 million, after its employee housing was separated from the hotel. The company’s appraiser, however, wanted it lowered to $2.9 million.
It rankled board members that the hotel assessment was based the financial state of the business. Horan explained that businesses are assessed with a different formula than residential homes.
“Look at the gross sales in Skagway, – they’re up,” Horan said. “Tourists up ever year, but the hotels are going down.”
Board member Mike Catsi wondered if his income went down, would his assessment follow.
“Other people could come in and buy your house,” said Horan. “It’s the test of the highest and best use.”
Mielke said while the hotel has the right to change its business method, that it was the company’s decision to stop bringing visitors in by ship. That led to a drop in overnighters, and visitors instead went by bus.
“Do you devalue on purpose your business, and then put the profits somewhere else,” asked Mielke.
There was a thread throughout the meeting that people would not be able to afford to live in their homes if the assessments became too high.
But City Manager Bob Ward kept reminding the board members and the audience that while assessments have risen 50 percent, the taxes, as of the meeting date, would go up only 11 percent, and that was due to a rise in support of the Skagway Medical Clinic and the Rec. Center. Both, he said, were important to the health of the community.

AP&T may see recovery this fall
Low snow may cause diesel use this summer

By ROBERT WARREN and JEFF BRADY
The recent filing of Chapter 11 bankruptcy has been challenging for Alaska Power & Telephone, but they can see the lights on at the end of the tunnel.
Speaking to the Skagway Chamber of Commerce on May 30, AP& T Executive Vice President and Human Resources Director Stan Selmer said the Chamber has played a large role in keeping subsidiaries from having to file Chapter 11 as well.
“In 90 to 120 days we should be out of bankruptcy,” he said. “I don’t know about records for this sort of thing, but less than a year would be a good accomplishment.”
The company was forced to file for bankruptcy after a failed investment in an Anchorage-based construction company.
Selmer said that he feels positive about the efforts to get out of Chapter 11 by fall of 2003, but stressed, “all of our core entities are continuing to operate.”
While AP&T struggles to overcome its financial woes, Mother Nature has thrown her own wrench into the turbines. With last winter’s lowest snow pack in 14 years, the Goat Lake and Lower Dewey Lake hydroelectric facilities risk temporarily drying up, which would force AP&T to revert to burning diesel fuel.
AP&T Skagway General Manager Dave Vogel said the diesel power plants in Skagway and Haines remain as back-ups to the hydroelectricity for just such an occasion.
Through trend analysis of the weather, Skagway may be short of water for 45 to 60 days this year. “How that will all play out until the fall rains show up, we don’t know,” said Vogel.
Goat Lake’s three megawatt generator and Lower Lake’s 870 kilowatts will soon be supplemented by a new hydro project. The new generator will provide no less than three megawatts for Skagway and Haines.
Instead of the lakes’ storage-based water system, AP&T has plans to install a run-of-river system on the Denver Glacier-fed Kasidaya Creek, which is located in the next valley south of Skagway. A 3,000-foot penstock will transport water down to the creek mouth where a single turbine will spin, generating electricity.
Although no fish live in the creek, some depend on it. To accommodate the sculpin and Dolly Vardens who thrive in the creek’s intertidal zone, a hole at the top of the penstock will allow enough water to escape to accommodate the fish.
Final engineering is underway now, with construction beginning as soon as late this year. The federally-funded, $5 million project is to be completed by 2005.
AP&T is also planning on filing a rate case for a small increase in local power costs. According to Selmer, the process generally takes 18 months to complete, and that the increase would not be anything like the 44 percent increase in January 2002.
“If there is a rate increase, it would be very limited for Skagway, more like 2-3 percent,” he said.
One thing Selmer said he learned in the past year, taking a note from Hillary Clinton is: “It takes a village idiot to bankrupt a power and telephone company.”

SARS scare just that, says health official
Woman had a history of pneumonia and chronic illness

By DIMITRA LAVRAKAS
A suspected case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome was reported here last Friday, but the state epidemiologist said by phone Monday that she didn’t think it was SARS.
“We don’t think she has SARS, we just have to play this weird game because she meets the criteria with her trip through the Toronto airport,” said Dr. Beth Funk, medical epidemiologist with the Alaska Division of Public Health. “Because we’re dealing with the rest of the states, we have to follow the full isolation bit, but nobody is putting any money down that this is SARS.”
The 85 year-old Canadian woman, a cruise ship passenger whose name was not released, began having symptoms of high fever, a cough and a chest X-ray that showed pneumonia on the night of June 4, and was admitted to the cruise ship Volendam’s clinic. Having a history of recent pneumonia as the woman did, said Funk, did not necessarily make her more susceptible to SARS.
“The old and very young seem to be more susceptible,” Funk said.
The woman was medevaced to Juneau’s Bartlett Regional Hospital after Cruise Lines Agency of Alaska notified the Skagway Police Department who paged out the call to the Skagway Volunteer Fire Department Emergency Medical Services.
Capital City Medical Services flew EMS technicians in on a Coastal Helicopter chopper and were in charge of the medevac.
At a wrap-up meeting called by Mayor Tim Bourcy at City Hall Monday, Chief Martin Beckner said he heard the page out and knew something was up.
“Somebody had made the determination to take SARS precautions,” said Beckner.
Following SARS protocol, he removed any unnecessary equipment from the ambulance and had the EMT suit up in a Tyvek suit with the appropriate face mask and gloves. The EMT never had contact with the patient, and the ambulance was sanitized after use.
At Cruise Lines Agency of Alaska, Port Manager Stew Stephens, said at the meeting they were caught unaware.
“No one told us it was a possible case, we didn’t have a clue,” said Stephens. “We did our normal thing and arranged things.”
Stephens said the doctors at the cruise ship didn’t take any precautions , but that the patient did have an oxygen mask on.
Asked by Bourcy if Cruise Lines Agency has SARS protocol, Stewart said they didn’t, but took their cue from the cruise ship. Beckner suggested to make sure the cruise lines are using the correct masks and gloves, as they have to be a certain type to protect from viruses. The agency will also add another piece to its checklist for infectious disease precautions to be taken.
“The one thing I want to make sure is that we’re coordinated on this,” said Bourcy. “It’s a good thing this was a test.”

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

HEY, HEY, BOO-BOO

A black bear cub peers out behind its mom from behind the guard rail on the Klondike Highway a mile north of the Canada Customs Station at Fraser, B.C. last Monday morning. JB

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE:

• SPORTS: Softball, Yukon River Quest, Kluane to Chilkat Bike Race

• FEAT OF MANY FEET: 2003 Fran Delisle Breast Cancer Awareness Walk

• HEARD ON THE WIND: In search of real people

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