2009 Municipal Election Forum

Skagway voters on Oct. 6 will elect a mayor, three assembly members, and two school board members. Candidate forum answers appear below, starting with the mayor's race. Scroll down for borough assembly and school board races.

Questions for Mayor and Assembly Candidates
1. What special qualities would you bring to the assembly table?
2. Do you favor attendance by teleconference in any form for elected officials of the borough? Please state your reasons for supporting or opposing this, or any limitations you would like to see placed on members if teleconferencing should be allowed.
3. On the one hand, the assembly is asking for a reexamination of the state cruise excise tax, yet on the other hand the borough has reaped benefits from the tax over the past couple years that have allowed it to pursue some major projects. Where do you stand on taxation of the cruise industry?
4. Skagway’s housing market is in a slump, there are open rental spaces on Broadway, and school enrollment is at a 40-year low. What can the borough do to improve this situation?
5. Please state your top 3 priorities for the borough, or any other issues that need attention.

MAYOR
Tom Cochran (i) is running unopposed for a 3-year term

Tom Cochran
Age: 41
Occupation: telephone
technician & longshoreman
Education: High School graduate
Years in Skagway: Most of my life
Public offices held: City Council, School Board, Economic Development
Interests, hobbies: Communications technology, shooting

TOM COCHRAN ANSWERS
1. Experience, the ability to preside over a meeting, ability to listen.
2. I favor teleconferencing on a limited basis. Our weather and geography sometimes prevent physical attendance. I think a total of four meetings via teleconference with no more than two consecutively in any one calendar year would be appropriate. This would prevent abuse while allowing for vacations, medical trips, etc. This topic should be addressed for other commissions and committees as well. There are some very strong arguments supporting some form of teleconferencing for HDC and Planning & Zoning. This not only applies to board members but applicants and citizen testimony.
3. This is a very complex issue because we benefit from the cruise industry as a community yet at the same time that very industry impacts our community very heavily. I don’t disagree with the $50.00 head tax imposed by the State of Alaska. The other portions of that particular initiative need serious review and consideration. These include corporate income tax, gambling tax, and wastewater discharge requirements. There was a lot more to the 2006 initiative than the $50.00 head tax. I don’t know how many Alaskans are aware of that. As far as the $50.00 head tax goes I say keep it. Our community receives approximately $4,000,000.00 annually because of that. The resolution passed by the Skagway Assembly asks the State government to review all aspects of the Head Tax initiative. It does not ask for a repeal of the head tax.
4. School enrollment has been dropping for many years. For the 2009-2010 school year we lost more students yet again. School enrollment is probably the lead indicator of how healthy a community is. The only true solution to this problem in my opinion is to diversify the economy of Skagway in such a way that you create several well paying year round jobs with good benefits. This is the goal of the Skagway Port Gateway Initiative. This project is based on industrial port development including enhanced ore terminal operations, a new heavy duty intermodal dock, and a barge ramp facility. This will accommodate the mining industry in the Yukon and potentially renew general freight service through the port of Skagway. If the Mining industry attains the forecasted level of operation it will then be economical for the railroad to get involved. When that happens you have a year round railroad operation and port facility supplying year round employment for many people.
5. Wastewater Treatment Plant
Skagway Port Gateway Initiative
Municipal Entitlement Lands
New Clinic
Fire Department re-structuring
Disposition of old clinic.

BOROUGH ASSEMBLY - two 3 year seats
David Hunz (i) and Tim Cochran are on the ballot for two 3-year seats. Allison Holtkamp is running for a 3-year seat as a declared write-in candidate.

Timothy D. Cochran
Age: 47
Occupation: Plant manager, Petro Marine Services.
Education: High School Graduate, Vocational Technical School Graduate-Electronics, U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officers’ Academy Graduate-PNCOC, PLDC, & BNCOC.
Years in Skagway: 1964-1980 and 2003-present.
Public offices held: Planning & Zoning Commissioner, Ports & Harbor Committee Vice-Chair, Port Security Committee member.
Interests, hobbies: Reading, Drawing, and spending time with family and friends.

TIM COCHRAN ANSWERS
1. I am Honest, Direct, Responsible, and Compassionate. I grew up in Skagway, this is my hometown and I am concerned with the direction we are going. I also feel that I have an obligation to give back to this community what I can through public service.
2. I think it should be available as an option for an assembly member to use if he or she was unable to attend a meeting because of an illness, inclement weather, or perhaps in the hospital, but I think that if you are going to represent the community on the assembly then you should be a permanent resident and make it a point to be present at all meetings possible and in person.
3. I’m for the head tax. I think we need it. However, there is a lot of misinformation on this issue. There are those that are saying that the cruise ships are going to other destinations because of this head tax. The reason that it is becoming more expensive for the cruise lines to operate is because there is also a corporate tax, a gambling tax, extremely stringent regulatory mandates on their water treatment systems, and water desalinization that are all part of the excise tax initiative package. We need to look at the whole picture rather than a small part that is passed on, in large, to the passengers.
4. I think that we desperately need to see industrial development of our port to allow both tourism and industry to coexist in order to support year round commerce. This will obviously require a cooperative effort on the part of the municipality, the railroad, AIDEA, the cruise ship industry, Canada, First Nation, State and Federal agencies. There is also room for some commercial fishing as well as winter recreational development, but the bottom line is if we don’t acquire a year round economy, we won’t see any improvement in those areas.
5. Port and Harbor development, Borough land entitlements recognized and granted by the State, Senior Housing and assisted living for seniors in Skagway.

Dave Hunz
Age: 56
Occupation: Business owner, railroad engineer
Education: Through 1 year of community college.
Years in Skagway: 50.
Public offices held: 12 years on council/assembly.
Interests, hobbies: Boating, fishing.

HUNZ ANSWERS
1. I have been a 50-year resident of Skagway and a business owner here for the past 36 years. I have 12 years of experience on the council/assembly. I am always looking to the long-term stability and future growth of the municipality.
2. I support meetings by teleconference in a limited form. I propose a maximum of 4 meetings by teleconference per year with no more than 2 consecutive teleconference meetings.. The meeting agenda information would need be distributed at least one week in advance to allow members time to research any questions. Assembly members would need to supply a local cell phone number so that citizens may call to discuss their opinions or concerns.
3. There is a lot more to the initiative than the excise tax. We are asking the legislature to review all aspects of the initiative to make sure that the tourism industry remains a valuable economic engine for Skagway and the state. I want to see the results of the total review so that I can make an informed opinion.
4. I support pursuing low-income housing grants through the SDC and/or the Skagway Tribal Council. Skagway has offered tax exemptions to encourage new construction downtown. We have a lower mill rate than other cities in the state. Because of these incentives, the downtown area may be over-built for the current economic climate. The market will have to adjust the rents to meet the current demand. I don’t see this as a role of the municipality.
5. 1. Port development and highway maintenance to promote future growth and secure year-around jobs. 2. Maintain the Municipality’s infrastructure and services (clinic, police and fire departments, rec center) at a practical cost to the taxpayers and the users. 3. Plan for the return of the waterfront to the Municipality in 2023.

Allison Holtkamp
Age: 27
Occupation: : Tour Guide Supervisor-Red Onion.
Education: Bachelors Degree in Integrated Studies
Years in Skagway: Six summers.
Public offices held: None
Interests, hobbies: Performing in local theatre; writing & blogging; and knitting sweaters for my dog.

HOLTKAMP ANSWERS
1.My experience in working with people will help me bring a level head and diplomacy to each meeting. I am unbiased and not jaded which help me focus on current issues with a fresh perspective.
I am also enthusiastic about using my education and work experience to fortify research in every financial issue brought to the table. I want Skagway to remain fiscally responsible, and I am confident that we can develop new ideas without feeling the strain of uncertainty in financial crises.
2.I think teleconferencing should be allowed to a point. Most residents leave Skagway at some point in the year for extended vacations to visit family, relax, or to pursue short term employment. As long as assembly members are focused and able to teleconference, we shouldn’t avoid that possibility. We live in modern times, and definitely have the ability to stay connected.
3.We are definitely at a point to reexamine, and perhaps hold off on that tax. We have beautiful and important projects that have developed because of that tax, but because of the state of the economy, it wouldn’t hurt us to remove that tax to help encourage more affordable cruises. Therefore, bringing more revenue to Skagway.
4. Fortifying year-round employment will encourage young families to stay in Skagway. Also, establishing incentives for new year-round business owners will bring more year round residents. Focusing on conception and developments of untapped business pursuits,will bring a new and exciting gold rush to Skagway.
5. a. Expanding the Rec Center-mainly adding a swimming pool. As trite as that may seem, I believe it will bring more money to the Rec Center while providing an obvious service to children. It is an expensive endeavor, but I have faith in our financial creativity.
b. Encouraging the development of stronger marine highway system with newer, faster, and more efficient ferries.
c. While we all need to encourage the maintenance and development of Skagway, we need to protect its integrity. We live in the most beautiful place in the world, and while we need to take advantage of its resources, we can’t destroy our appeal. If we sustain the life our little town and all the lives around it including Dyea, we and our families can live here for generations.

BOROUGH ASSEMBLY - one year seat
Ed Fairbanks, Luke Rauscher and Paul Reichert are running for a single one-year seat on the assembly.

Ervon (Ed) Fairbanks
Age: 77
Occupation: Owner - Fairway Market.
Education: High School - 1950, College - 1955 Bachelor of Science in Engineering. Years in Skagway: Since 1946.
Public offices held: Skagway City council - 19 years.
Interests, hobbies: My work, travel.

FAIRBANKS ANSWERS
1. 1) Fiscal responsibility; 2) Education in planning and engineering and experience in construction engineering, particularly waterfront construction.; 3) Sixty years of living in Skagway, year round.; 4) Nineteen years prior experience on the Skagway City Council.
2. I do not favor attendance by teleconference. I believe people vote for candidates with the expectation that those candidates will be present at meetings, not only assembly meetings but also committee meetings and that those candidates will be involved in and knowledgeable of issues within the community. I believe that people have the expectation that their assemblymen are available to talk to. The one exception would be a short term absence approved by the council for vacation, medical, or family matters but not an extended period of time.
3. I oppose taxation of the cruise industry. Taxes are necessary for governments to provide necessary services. Taxes, however, become regressive, particularly taxes on business. The National Tax Foundation states that all taxes funnel down to consumers and the users of services. The cruise industry tax, I believe is $50 dollars per head. You hear it said that the cruise industry does not pay the tax. They pass it on to the passenger. That is the point. It increases the cost of a cruise to Alaska, $100 for a couple, $200 for a couple traveling with two children. I would say that is enough to deter individuals from taking a cruise to Alaska. Even for those who do take a cruise they will have a little less to spend. Retail sales in Skagway have been down this summer. It has been rumored that sales have been down as much as 30%-40%. I cannot help but believe that the cruise industry tax has had some influence on that down turn and will contribute to further downturn next summer.
4. I believe that it is going to be very difficult for the borough to improve the situation in the short term. Skagway began as the gateway to the Klondike during the gold rush. The Skagway economy has been almost totally based on transportation in and out of the Yukon. Forty plus years ago the railroad ran to Whitehorse almost daily. There were about 100 men working in the shops. There were about 40 longshoremen. There were the section crews, the train crews, and the B&B gang, total of about 200 year round jobs. Richter’s, Keller’s, and Kirmse’s were open year round. Alaska Steamship, Canadian National, and Canadian Pacific Steamship served Skagway bringing freight that went over the railroad to Whitehorse and down the river and into interior Alaska. There were about 200 students in the school. There were three grocery stores, three bars, two movie theaters. There were two companies delivering oil, a bakery and a laundry. Skagway is strategically located to be a port of export for Canadian raw materials to world markets. I foresee that Skagway could be an active port for that commerce. Several years ago when I was on the council I saw a plan for a gas pipeline from the interior of Canada to Skagway to export gas to world markets. The project was projected to create about 70 jobs and would have put about 75 million dollars on the Skagway tax rolls. It will be contingent upon borough government to create a friendly atmosphere for business, but not just the borough government but the entire Skagway community. Then Skagway could attract people to year round jobs and the population base necessary to restore Skagway to its former self. Then there will be a sustainable Skagway.
5. 1) Fiscal Responsibility; 2) Economic Development to create year round jobs not just hit & run summer jobs.

Luke Rauscher
Age: did not list
Occupation: None listed.
Education: None listed.
Years in Skagway: 20 years, the last 6 years have been year-round
Public offices held: None listed. Interests, hobbies: None listed.

RAUSCHER ANSWERS
1. An appreciation for organizational structure, morality and ethics. I’ll bring fresh ideas to the Assembly that will represent this generation of Skagwegiens as well as the next.
2.I believe our elected officials need to be here and need to live here year round. I can see under special circumstances that teleconferencing could be beneficial for the Municipality.
3. The Cruise Industry is a big business to the Municipality. What we need to ask ourselves is if the incentive of cutting the excise tax is going to promote enough business for the Municipality, to surpass the funds received from the excise tax?
4. The Municipality can look into financial incentives and less restrictions when it comes to small business and the housing market. We need to take a close look at why families are moving, and pulling their kids out of school, and address those specific problems.
5. School, Housing, Business and Commerce, and Recreation.

Paul Reichert
Age: 41
Occupation: Manager - TEMSCO Helicopters. Inc.
Education: B.A. Social Science (Emphasis: Cultural Anthropology) University of Alaska - Southeast
Years in Skagway: 16.
Public offices held: Alaska Travel Industry Association – Skagway Board President
Interests, hobbies: Canoeing/kayaking, back-country hiking/skiing (basically any outdoor adventure), cooking, reading.

REICHERT ANSWERS
1.I believe in a management system based on goals, planning, and oversight. I was excited to be a part of the Skagway Comprehensive Plan last year. That plan is intended to guide our community growth over the next decade. It addresses issues such as quality of life, public safety, employment, and economic development. Over the past 16 years in Skagway, I’ve watched this town grow and adapt to the changing times. I believe my management skills will help guide the community through the challenges ahead. I have the patience and the willingness to listen to all points of view, as well a firm belief in the vetting process. I would honor the opportunity to serve this community.
2. I think that a person that is here most of the winter, and very involved with the issues, is going to better serve this community than someone living down south. There is so much more to the job than simply attending two meetings per month. There are countless hours reading up on issues, meeting with various committees throughout the week, as well as talking to residents on a day to day basis. There is also the immeasurable value of residents knowing that their elected official is here – experiencing the same quality of life as them, day in and day out.
I think it would be valuable to take a look at how some other Alaskan communities have dealt with teleconferencing, but I think we need to be very careful about going down that slippery slope.
3.I think it is important to remember that 68% of Skagway residents did not vote for the CPV Tax in 2006. Nonetheless, we have used those tax funds in a manner appropriate to their intended use by Alaska state law. We have, and will continue to fund projects to improve port and harbor facilities, while developing infrastructure to help our most important economic base (tourism).
However, it is projected that the decline of cruise visitors between 2007and 2010 will result in a loss of Skagway employment by 15%, and a local tax revenue drop exceeding 15%. The long-term losses in jobs and revenue may far exceed the short-term gains we’re currently experiencing. I believe the Municipal resolution asking the Governor or Alaska legislature to appoint a panel or committee to take a close look at the effects of the CPV Tax is a prudent one. We should encourage the cruise industry to continue to maintain and expand its presence in Alaska.
4. I think that the solutions begin with stabilizing our local year-round 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. Our Gateway Project gives us the opportunity to develop our port resources and diversify our economy. This project will focus on developing versatile infrastructure that can respond to the demands of current and future port users.
5. 1. I think that our first priority should be to continue on with our major capital projects that are already underway: Wastewater treatment plant, Small boat harbor wave-barrier project, and Gateway (port development) Project are at the top of that list. 2. The Dyea-Point subdivision road is under construction; I would like to see the sale of that property move forward. As in past land-lotteries, providing the means for reasonable financing has been a viable way for young families to become land owners, without reducing our property values. 3. Lastly, I think that we should take a hard look at the projects we would like to see accomplished in the next ten years. We need to prioritize them into short/long term goals, and then we need to follow through with those plans. We have some unique economic challenges ahead, so showing fiscal restraint and responsibility will be a priority.

SCHOOL BOARD - two 3-year seats
Chris Ellis (i) and Stuart Brown are running unopposed for two 3-years seats on the Skagway School Board

Stuart Brown
Age: 55
Occupation: Owner - SMART Bus.
Education: BS from Montana State University. Years in Skagway: 10 years living here year-round, plus 3 previous years transient.
Public offices held: No elected offices; I was appointed to City’s EDC.
Interests, hobbies: Photography, hunting/fishing, Ski Race Trail Crew

BROWN ANSWERS
1. My assets are: (1) My experience owning and operating a business. The school board must set down a budget each year and operate within that guideline, much like every business in town must do. A board member must always be conscious of its fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayer. (2) My love of children. A school board member has a great responsibility to the children of the community and our mandate is to ensure to them quality of life and the best education we can offer them.
Attracting new people and retaining the ones that are already here can be done through recruiting year-around businesses, enhancing the local business climate, and assisting small businesses that are in Skagway now. This can be accomplished with the cooperation of the public and private sectors. The school district’s role in this is to maintain an above average education program with many of the options offered by other communities who are competing for those same families. I believe we have to strive to constantly improve our education program if we wish to curtail this trend of local families migrating south to find “better” educational opportunities. We have to offer more high school and college-level courses for our school to be attractive and to maintain our reputation across the state as a quality education program.
3. I would, of course favor retaining the basic, necessary courses for students’ high school graduation. But, I would also favor enhancing those courses offered and expanding the choices students have. I believe that athletics and the arts are just as important as the core curriculum when it comes to shaping well-rounded citizens and tomorrow’s leaders. Ask any corporate head the importance of team building and having diverse cultural and educational interests. It really bothers me to see programs cut. Our kids are competing with the rest of the world. We need to get creative and find diverse ways of funding those programs we’ve lost and build new programs. We owe this to our students.
4.1. Fair and adequate funding to provide a complete education program. Find alternative funding and give the local taxpayer a break.
2. Expand and improve our education program. By increasing the number and quality of courses we offer to students of all ages, we will also help resolve our enrollment problem.
3. Maintain a substantial Building Fund to ensure that the facilities will be kept modern and adequate for our changing needs.

Christine Ellis
Age: 45
Occupation: Owner/operator of Pine Country Landscaping
Education: High school, 2 years college.
Years in Skagway: 45.
Public offices held: School Board - 9 years.
Interests, hobbies: Family, learning, outdoor stuff

ELLIS ANSWERS
1.Nine years experience of being on the board. Good understanding of “how it’s done”, problem solving skills, creative thinker, and a genuine concern for the education, health and welfare of our students.
2. Very good question. This has been topic of discussion since our enrollment started dropping in the early 2000. The best way to go about coming up with a solution to our enrollment decline, is to have a good understanding of why it’s happening. In the early 2000’s we were building budgets based on an enrollment of approximately 145 students, now we are looking at a realistic enrollment of between 80-90 students. Declines in enrollment can be attributed in part to demographic and economical changes. While many smaller communities are seeing a decline in population and enrollment, Anchorage schools are seeing a huge increase. Why the shift? Job opportunities, better living environment, affordable housing, chances for personal growth, medical, etc. can certainly be factors. We have also had larger classes graduating and smaller numbers coming in at the kindergarten level. According to the 2000 census, we had a population of 862 here, with 401 households of which 23.2% housed school aged children. I think if we were to canvas today, we’d see a drop in the households with school age children more so than we would in population. While a school alone isn’t enough to sustain a family in a community, it can be a big factor in choosing to stay. For the schools part, we can continue our efforts in offering a quality well rounded education, and not be the reason that families leave. The frustrating part is that in order to offer more academics and electives, we need the students for the classes.
It would take the whole community coming together to look at ways of attracting and keeping families here. Creating a task force to look into ways of doing this might be a step in the right direction.
3.All programs are essential to a student’s education. I see them all equally important. Maintaining the basic education would take top priority. Student interest, of course, is a big factor in keeping/cutting/enhancing other activities. As long as there is student interest in extracurricular activities, it is important to look at ways to keep the most popular. However, if cuts need to be made, I support keeping the sports/academic extra curricular activities, as these are recognized nationally, offer student who excel a chance for college scholarships, have community support, and are a good learning tool for students. The arts would come lastly, not because I see them as having any lesser value, but because there are other avenues within the community that can be utilized to offer students an opportunity to learn. We can get a little more creative with the arts education with funding and resources than we can with any other program.
4. Continuation of quality education, student enrollment, and funding. I would like to look into utilizing our technology more. We have auto conferencing equipment that can be used for distant learning. I would like to look into ways of bringing this technology on line, giving students a chance to take other classes that we can’t afford to fund, and offer an alternative to correspondence studies. Maybe we can use this to our benefit by having some of our staff offering the classes and bring revenue into our school this way. Perhaps there are also ways of teacher sharing with other smaller districts who can’t afford to offer classes, like foreign language for example. The possibilities are endless.

VOTE OCT. 6: Polls open at Skagway City Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Absentee voting available weekdays through Oct. 5 at 5 p.m. at borough offices.