2010 Municipal Election Forum

Skagway voters on Oct. 5 will elect two borough assembly members and one school board member. Candidate forum answers appear below, starting with the assembly race.

Questions for Assembly Candidates

1. What special qualities would you bring to the assembly table?

2. School funding was a huge issue in the community this past year. What level of municipal funding is acceptable to you if the school continues to have low enrollment? Please address: a) funding to the municipal cap, and b) extra funding requests submitted by the school board.

3. A memorandum of understanding and recent estoppel agreements with White Pass have allowed negotiations to proceed on a possible extension of the 55-year tidelands lease with the company. There also is interest by AIDEA in taking over the ore terminal portion of the lease when it expires, and there always has been the option of the borough not renewing the lease and managing its own port. Do you support an extension of the lease at this time? Would you be in favor of open negotiations and a vote of the people on this important issue? What are your thoughts on the current port development options facing the community?

4. Skagway’s housing market remains in a slump, new lots at Dyea Point have gone unsold, and there are still open rental spaces downtown. Is there anything the borough can do to help this situation?

5. Please state your top 3 priorities for the borough, or any other issues that need attention.

BOROUGH ASSEMBLY - two 3 year seats
Former assemblyman Mike Korsmo and incumbents Paul Reichert and Mark Schaefer are running on the ballot for two 3-year seats on the borough assembly.

Age: 52
Occupation: Tugboat Captain
Education: 2 yr Associates degree, 3 yr Technology degree, 1600 ton Oceans Master License
Years in Skagway: 26
Public offices held: 8-yr Skagway Assembly and City Council; Past President, Southeast Conference; Chair, Marine Transportation Advisory Board
Interests, hobbies: Wife, children, walking the dog.

1. Eight years experience at the assembly table. Good working relationship with governor’s office and state legislature through statewide participation. Ability to listen and act on the wishes of the public.

2. I have been a big supporter of education in my past years on the council. I have supported funding to the cap and additional support outside of the cap for programs. Because of our support our school has ranked at the top of the state academically. The municipality can afford to continue to fully fund our school while also seeking ways to reverse declining enrollment. Drastically cutting programs and teachers will only accelerate our enrollment issues as experienced this past year. There are three main things I believe will attract and keep families in Skagway: 1) quality education opportunities, 2) affordable cost of living (including housing), 3) ability to support your family. On number 3, efforts are underway to try and create more year-round jobs through port development. This is important. We also have a large segment of our population who make a good living off our seasonal tourism industry and this allows them to be able stay all year. By providing a good quality of education, affordable living conditions and a good quality of life, families will stay and not take their kids elsewhere for the winter. Because of past municipal and community support, both of my daughters were educated at Skagway School and are well-positioned for their future to be successful, well-educated citizens. Let’s not go backwards, we can afford to take care of both our current and future children.

3. The extension of the lease should be a part of the conversation and negotiations with White Pass over the waterfront lease. I don’t believe these negotiations should happen too fast but should take place with clear and concise goals in mind and also a certain level of public participation. The public needs to have involvement and input on any new lease arrangement or municipal management of our port facilities.
The Municipality currently makes $127,200 annually from the lease. This is around 6 percent of the appraised value of the leased area which is readjusted every five years. White Pass made $7,858,000 off the port in 2009 (does not include railroad revenue). White Pass has also developed the infrastructure and docks that have greatly improved the waterfront for our tourism industry. At the same time they have been reluctant to deal with infrastructure and environmental issues at the Ore Dock which is where the municipality’s port development push is heading.
Skagway is in a very strong position to work out a much better lease agreement. 2023 is not that far away and it would be great if could work out a better deal prior to that. I believe a fair public/private partnership on the various components of the lease would be best. If in the long run White Pass is unwilling to work out a better lease arrangement, then I believe it is in Skagway’s best interest to not extend the lease. Currently AIDEA has a sublease with White Pass on the leased property but owns the terminal building and ship loader. Any changes in the White Pass lease for that area would obviously change that arrangement. This also makes AIDEA somewhat of a partner in any future public/private partnership.

4. The housing market everywhere is in a slump. I have never seen as many houses available in the 26 years I have lived here. A few years back you could hardly find a house and if you could it was not affordable to most young families. The municipality made a big effort to make land available through the Dyea land sales; unfortunately the market also dictated fairly high prices for the nice lots that were made available. The Municipality is obligated to sell lands at fair market value. The Municipality needs to try to figure out a way to sell those lots at affordable prices without affecting property values of those who already own their own land. There were a lot of good ideas during the development of the last Comprehensive Plan about how to deal with the housing situation and this would be a good place to start. Bottom line is that the economy must get better and prices must stabilize at an affordable rate for this situation to change.

5. 1) School Support- financially and lobby the state to support school funding and projects. 2) Small Boat Harbor Renovation and Expansion- last I checked this was the No. 1 priority for the municipality. 3) Port Development- see Question 3. Other Issues- land disposal, senior center, trail maintenance, cost savings for city departments through sustainability efforts, etc.

Age: 42
Occupation: TEMSCO Manager
Education: University of Alaska – Southeast (BA – Cultural Anthropology)
Years in Skagway: 17
Public offices held: Borough Assembly (1 year)
Interests, hobbies: Kayaking, skiing, music.

1. I believe my career in management and working with people has allowed me to develop skills that are useful in serving this community. I have the patience and willingness to listen to all points of view, weigh the facts, and make decisions that will benefit the majority of the people. I believe in the Skagway Comprehensive Plan and using that document to help guide this community forward into the future. I would honor the opportunity to continue to serve on this Assembly.

2. No doubt school funding was a major issue this past year, as well it should be. The school and the children that attend it are at the core of this community’s future. To neglect them is to ignore the future of Skagway. Our economic development is directly tied to the health of our educational system. I believe a quality school system will help keep families here, as well as draw new prospective families that are comparing communities in which to live.
A resounding majority of people stepped forward and expressed their concerns and desire to fund our school. It shows just how important education is to our community members. It is the Assembly’s duty to represent the will of the people. It is our job to come up with solutions and find the money to fund our school. The state only allows us to fund a certain amount towards the municipal cap. That should be a given. If we don’t, how are we supposed to go back to the state legislature and solicit funding for other community projects?
Next, I am very excited about the early effort taking place now for next year’s school budget. There has been a joint panel set up to work on ideas for next year, as well as getting parents and the community involved in planning for funding. I look forward to working with the community and the new superintendent to come up with ways to avoid what happened this year. By planning now and following through this winter, I believe that we can budget and find the funding necessary to make our school everything that it can and should be.

3. We have made great strides this past year in our port development planning. It has been and will continue to be a priority for this community. Our port development committee has been working closely with all essential port users, including The Yukon Government, the Northern Mining Community, AIDEA, and White Pass. We are currently in the process of applying for a second round of federal stimulus funds, specifically directed at our port development.
WP&YR has been very supportive throughout these efforts to bring a more year round economy to Skagway. I am very confident that these continued efforts will continue to aid our efforts in drawing new users to our port. I believe that the scope of our vision requires solid partnerships with all entities involved. I look forward to these continued efforts and ongoing negotiations, in order to enhance our port and our economic future. As these plans continue to develop, we will continue to solicit input from the community. It is my goal to make the best informed decisions that represent what is best for Skagway’s future.

4. Our housing woes are tied to our economy. We not only need to work on maintaining the jobs we already have, but we should be moving towards creating new, year-round positions. We can start by keeping our current families here in town. We should work on bolstering our education system, so that families want to stay here. The Municipality’s efforts to diversify our port will help in creating more year-round positions for those families.

5. One priority is to continue on with the current major capital projects underway. Finishing our Wastewater treatment plant upgrade and the Gateway (port development) projects are at the top of that list. Included in this development is our boat harbor project. 2. We should continue our efforts in pursuing our land entitlements from the state. I believe we have more tools this year in attaining what should rightfully belong to the community. 3. We should continue to revisit our community Comprehensive Plan, and consider what we would like to accomplish over the next 5, 10, 20 years. We need to prioritize into short/long term goals, and then we need to follow through with those plans. This all needs to be accomplished for and with the help of Skagway residents.

Age: 48
Occupation: Manager of Train Operations
Education: Sacrament City College 2 years, Aeronautics Technician
Years in Skagway: 32
Public offices held: Skagway Municipal Assembly (3 years)
Interests, hobbies: Outdoor winter sports, gardening, hunting/fishing

1. I am committed to serve the community through the assembly, to put in the many hours of study on public policy issues to come to rational management decisions. For more than 30 years, I have been humbled by the sacrifices made by others, both in and out of government. I hope my institutional knowledge of Skagway and my past experience as an elected official will help me help you. I am motivated to do so, as my attendance record shows, I have yet to miss an assembly meeting.

2. I ultimately voted to fund to the state’s funding formula, and I believe the assembly will continue to support the school beyond the state limits. This current fiscal year is a good example of that. We are a bit under 33,000 dollars per student, which is well above the state average, based on the estimates at the time of budget adoption. This is actually an increase from last year. I also ultimately supported the generous funding beyond the funding formula, as the record shows I have supported this in the past. However, funding beyond the state formula cannot be a blank check. One of the Assembly’s most challenging and difficult responsibilities is handling the borough’s money. Funding the school or any entity that comes to the borough for appropriations must be done in a fiscally responsible manner. I believe we have done that while ensuring that the youth of Skagway receive a quality education.

3. Recently, the Municipality of Skagway Assembly unanimously supported a Memorandum of Understanding with White Pass to renegotiate the tidelands lease to further the develop the industrial port as requested by the Municipality regarding the TIGER II grant. This is an open public process which I support. It is my understanding that to secure funding to develop the industrial port that a lease extension or modification is required. AIDEA is welcome to share their interests on the subject. The MOS cannot proceed on industrial port development without a partnership with White Pass. The relationship between government and private enterprise is as old as the community. The partnership between Municipality and White Pass has given us the viable community we see today. I view the current industrial port development as crucial to anchoring year round jobs, keeping family’s here and keeping children in school. Seasonal jobs, although lucrative, do not allow many families to stay in town during the school year. We need good year round jobs to maintain a good year round school.

4. We need to pursue Industrial Port Development and market Skagway to capitalize on the resource developments emerging in Canada and other potential transportation opportunities such as the gas pipeline. Skagway has a history as a transportation corridor, which has provided the historical basis for our economy. We must once again be the gateway to the Yukon, and interior Canada and Alaska. Tourism has been great and we will continue to value it. Housing and property values have been inflated by the seasonal tourism industry bonanza over the last 30-plus years and now the reality is coming home. But as the tourism economy has receded, in the absence of adequate year round jobs, property values and housing costs have become unaffordable for many. We may have hit a ceiling for the visitor industry, as many in business have predicted. Property values have started to fall, appraisals will follow sales, and so over time, the housing market should adjust itself. Obviously, we need people to live on those property’s which requires that all important year round economy to fuel a healthy housing market. The Dyea Point property may have been for sale in too large of lots with too many restrictions. Maybe we should have learned something after some of the large lots on the Skagway Hillside were eventually subdivided.
The nation continues to be in a housing and employment slump, and Skagway is no exception with its limited year round industry, but that’s not news to anyone.

5. We must support Industrial Port development, including small boat harbor expansion, for diversification of a year round economy. We must pursue Borough land entitlement to enhance the property needs and rights of the borough. We must ensure the quality of life for residents through a healthy economy that supports the infrastructure and institutional needs of Skagway, ranging from education and transportation to health care and senior care.

SCHOOL BOARD -one 3-year seat
Incumbent Darren Belisle is running unopposed for a 3-years seat on the Skagway School Board
. He did not submit his answers by the News' print deadline, and to date has not submitted them for the online edition.

VOTE OCT. 5: Polls open at Skagway City Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee voting available weekdays through Oct. 4 at 5 p.m. at borough offices.