July 23, 2010 • Vol. XXXIII, No. 13
Tall Restoration Order
NPS laborer Tyler Anderson hammers a board inside the roofline of the old YMCA on State Street – part of the effort to stabilize the historic building for restoration. Read about the work being done this summer on buildings acquired from the Rapuzzi family in our Historical Feature.
Photo by Katie Emmets
Amended Skagway School budget enacted; cap funding plus $250,000
By KATIE EMMETS
The amended Skagway School budget passed its second reading and this year’s contentious school funding issue is finally over – for now.
With the revisions, the school will be funded by the municipality to an operating budget of $1,251,780 (the state-allowed municipal cap for Skagway), with additional outside-the-cap funding of $250,000.
The original passage of the municipal budget on June 17 allowed for an operational school contribution of $1.1 million with extra funding totaling $353,054. The new budget amendment passed last week allows the school to receive $48,726 more than it originally received from the municipality.
Most of the residents who attended the July 15 assembly meeting came in support of funding outside the cap to $409,000, and were disheartened by the 4-2 vote which enacted Ordinance 10-12 into law. But the ordinance did what a nearly 400-signature petition requested: restoring operational funding to the cap.
Mayor Tom Cochran assured those who were upset by the assembly’s final decision that they would have another chance to amend the school budget.
“There is an election in October where you can change who sits at this table, and they can change the funding for the school with (another) budget amendment,” Cochran said. “You’ve got power, use it.”
As in past meetings that had the school budget on the agenda, parents and concerned citizens took the floor yet again in an attempt to convince the assembly to reconsider – but this time, their numbers were significantly less.
Sharon Bolton was the only Skagway resident to approach the assembly who was against funding the school in the amount it asked for.
Bolton said she supported the four assembly members “who were strong enough to do what should have been done years ago.”
For years, Skagway School has been told to cut its budget by the municipality and the state, she said.
Across the country, school budgets are getting reduced, and Bolton said she thinks Skagway School needs to figure out how to make the best with the funding it receives just like the others.
“I’m here to support one assembly member who is being threatened,” she said referring to threats made on Facebook to boycott Assemblywoman Colette Hisman’s business, Sweet Tooth Cafe, because Hisman is against funding outside the operating budget to $409,000.
Bolton said that Hisman has used her business to support the school for many years and urged the audience members to think about how they would feel if they were in her situation.
Assemblyman Tim Cochran, who joined the meeting by conference call, offered an alternative to municipal money that would generate money to fund the school outside of the cap.
Cochran suggested that residents donate their yearly Permanent Fund Dividend.
“Just for living in the state of Alaska, we get $1,000 each year,” Cochran said. “I give $3,000 out of my pocket every year (to the school).”
Cochran said that if each resident who signed the petition to fund the school donated their $1,000 check, they would raise almost $400,000.
Assemblyman Mark Schaefer said he thinks the assembly is being fair to the school by funding to the cap and “quite a bit outside it.”
Schaefer said by the time everything is said and done, however, he believes the school will get exactly what it is asking for, and possibly more, because the school finished the most recent year with a budget surplus.
There was one last effort by Assemblyman Dan Henry to amend the ordinance to boost the extra funding amount to $409,000.
Henry said the school is normally a focal point in the community, but he understands that if it came down to choosing to fund healthy drinking water or the outside operating budget of the school, the school would not be funded. But he said the decision doesn’t have to be made and reminded those in the chambers that the municipality’s public works, fire and police departments are adequately funded.
“We have the money to fund what was originally requested: $409,000,” he said. “We can give the kids art, music, a yearbook; you know, some real fluff.”
However only member Paul Reichert voted with him. When the final vote came on the revised school budget, the vote was 4-2, with Dave Hunz, Tim Cochran, Schaefer and Hisman voting for the measure, and Henry and Reichert against.
See related editorial - Opinion: Lessons learned from school funding outcome
More compensation asked for wave barrier; no comment from borough attorney after executive session
By KATIE EMMETS
Pacific Pile & Marine is asking the municipality for about $350,000 in additional project costs associated with a delay in the start-up of the wave barrier’s construction last year.
Municipal Attorney Bob Blasco attended a closed executive session with the Borough Assembly at its July 15 meeting to discuss how the municipality will respond to PP&M’s request. After the session, Blasco said he could not legally comment at this time.
Reached by phone at his Anchorage office, Jason Davis, PP&M project manager, said the company increased the towing and mobilization costs billed to the borough after the project was postponed for two months from the ideal starting time.
According to a letter written by Davis dated Nov. 2, 2009, the project was set to begin on Aug. 20, 2009 but the volume of cruise traffic halted construction until the first week in October.
If his team had started transporting material in August, Davis said PPM would have been able to give Skagway a reduced price because they would have been working in tandem with other projects in the region.
After not hearing back from the municipality in regard to beginning the towing in August, Davis said they made the final call on postponing the project only after several contact attempts were unanswered. The November letter was the fifth formal correspondence made to negotiate extra funding, the first being in July 2009, Davis said.
Although the municipality didn’t respond to its request for extra funding before the beginning of construction, Davis said PP&M was already under contract and not doing the project was not an option.
“The municipality was explicitly on notice that we would ask for additional compensation and never responded,” he said.
Davis said what PP&M is asking for is about 10 percent of the contracted $3.265 million, adding that for a 10 percent change order to be tacked on to the final bill is not uncommon in marine work.
While there were no significant changes during the process, Davis said there were two “extremely low” change orders, one made by PP&M and one by the municipality.
Despite the current confusion over compensation, Davis said the project won the Pile Driving Contract of the Year in 2009 from the Pile Driving Contractors Association.
According to the bid results for the project, seven companies participated and PP&M had the lowest bid with Hamilton Construction coming in at second lowest with a $3.531 million bid. The highest was West Construction Co. Inc with a $4.505 million bid. With the extra funds added, PP&M’s final cost would come out to $3.615 million, about $84,000 higher than Hamilton.
“The municipality is really getting a good value, and it got an excellent product,” Davis said.
Davis said the municipality has requested additional information that he sent out on July 15.
Marj Harris poses in her retirement pajamas presented in a gift bag put together by former mayor Tim Bourcy (right) and assemblyman Mike Korsmo during the roast portion of a dinner in her honor at the Fish Co. last weekend. Below, the Harris family. JB
Marj Harris retires after 13 years with municipality
By KATIE EMMETS
As of July 30, Marj Harris will no longer be expected to report to the second floor of the McCabe Building.
She will no longer be reminding Mayor Tom Cochran of the rules and procedures of the assembly, and she will never have to have to sit through another Skagway Borough Assembly meeting again if she doesn’t want to.
After 13 years of holding Skagway’s city and borough clerk titles, Harris is set to retire at the end of the month.
Originally aiming for June 30, Harris agreed to stay on board to help train her replacement Emily Deach until the end of July to allow for a smooth transition.
Harris got her start with local politics in her hometown of Wasilla.
In 1978 she was hired as the secretary for the City of Wasilla, filling one of three paid city employee positions. Three years later she was promoted to a position created specifically for her, deputy clerk and treasurer.
“They found out I was quite clever,” she said.
With this new position came a new responsibility, the responsibility of running the entire clerk’s office.
“When the Mayor would introduce me, he would say, ‘This is Marj Harris, she is the deputy clerk, but she always does the clerk’s job,’” she said.
After about 16 years of doing work she wasn’t being properly recognized for, she finally said enough is enough.
“I went to the council and said, look, I’m doing the work, I want the title.”
And they agreed.
By 1990, Harris was a certified clerk, a title that took her five years to earn by completing courses by correspondence and at the Mat-Su College in Wasilla.
Harris was the city clerk when Sarah Palin was elected to the Wasilla City Council and left her job there while Palin was the mayor.
“I got along fine with Miss Sarah Palin,” she said.
In 1997, Harris made the move to Skagway for two major reasons: she and her husband John wanted to be near the ocean and her job in Wasilla was very high-stress, and she wanted to sit back and take it easy.
“I was managing a multi-million dollar budget for the council, I was managing the council, and I ran the clerk’s office,” she said. “When I came here, I wasn’t managing, they had a manager to do that.”
Unfortunately, two months after taking the job in Skagway, Harris again ran into stress.
The city had secured a house for the Harrises to rent for two months when they first moved to Skagway with five of their six children.
“We had to give it up by mid-March so the seasonal employees could move back in,” she said.
Because they were unable to find a house at the end of the rental period, John was forced to take the kids back to Wasilla while Harris moved into a “12 by 17 square foot apartment with a camp stove and a little box outcrop that a toilet and a shower stood in.”
Almost every weekend for three months, Harris drove to Whitehorse, hopped on a plane to Anchorage, and drove to Wasilla to spend as much time as she could with her family.
By May, Harris had still not found a house.
“I went to (former) City Manager Bob Ward and I told him I can’t do this anymore,” she said. “Either I find a house, or I’m quitting. I need my family.”
After that, Stan Selmer let the Harris’s rent a house designated for Alaska Power and Telephone employees. The Harris’s stayed in the house for two years, which allowed them enough time to find land for John to build a house on.
Aside from the housing issue, Harris said she is very happy with her decision to move to Skagway.
“Overall, my 13 years here have been a very good experience,” she said, adding that Skagway School was one of the main reasons for that.
The school provided her children with opportunities they wouldn’t have received in a larger city like Wasilla. They excelled in sports and the Drama Debate and Forensics program, and they learned about traveling.
“My kids had a fantastic journey through the school,” she said. “So was it a good move here? Absolutely. It was a fantastic move.”
Harris’s proudest moment on the job came in 2007 when she was awarded both the Alaska Municipal Clerk of the Year award and the Municipal Employee of the Year award.
“I was very honored and very humbled when I found out,” she said.
Harris said she wouldn’t trade her time as clerk for anything, adding that her favorite part of working for the government is being involved with elections.
“I feel very strongly about elections,” she said. “It’s very important to vote.”
In her retirement, Harris said her immediate plans are to do nothing.
After working for 40 years, starting when she was 13 years old, and raising a family, 53-year-old Harris she said she needs some vacation time.
“I can count how many real vacations I’ve had on two fingers,” she said.
After doing “a lot of nothing,” Harris said she might make jewelry or paint.
“Over the years, I got into making jewelry, but my husband is much better at it than I am,” she said laughing.
Harris enjoys oil painting and working with stained glass, and when her husband owned Arctic Fire Studio in town, he sold some of her paintings there.
Although Harris has been involved in local politics for 32 years, she didn’t intend on making a career out of it.
In fact, it was a fluke that she even entered the field.
For five months in her 20s, Harris was rejected and turned down from every job she applied for.
After interviewing candidates for the City of Wasilla secretary position, Harris was fifth out of five candidates. The only reason she was hired was because the four finalists in front of her declined.
“My boss didn’t tell me for two years,” she said. “And when he finally admitted I was the last choice, and that I got the job by default, he said it was the best thing that ever happened to Wasilla.”
Flower and Garden Show cancelled in wake of surrendering of OES charter
By JEFF BRADY
The annual Eastern Star Flower and Garden Show, which usually begins on the second Sunday in August, has been cancelled. The organization that sponsored it for 27 years is no longer in existence.
“We’re surrendering our charter,” said past Worthy Matron Debbie Ackerman of Naomi Chapter 9 of the Order of the Eastern Star. “We had enough members, but we didn’t have enough members willing to lead.”
After leading the organization for seven years, Ackerman said that was enough for one person. The local OES chapter had 49 members, but of the 20 in town, only about 10 were active, and none stepped up to take the reins.
A casualty of the organization’s demise was the popular flower and garden show. Ackerman said the show was started by the Garden Club several years ago, and then transferred over to the Eastern Star, because its leader at the time, Edith Lee, was active in both organizations.
After Lee’s passing, the OES continued to run it, but it became harder each year, even though they received great attendance in recent years when the show moved to AB Hall.
“The show is cancelled, at least for this year,” Ackerman said, “But I’m hoping the gardening community takes note and wants to step up and continue it (in future years).”
She said some Eastern Star members would be willing to help.
“It takes about 10 people to set up and take down,” Ackerman said, adding that they have all the signs and other items related to the show, but just don’t have the organization to put it all together.
Dorothy Brady, current president of the Skagway Garden Club, said her focus in recent years has been on the Community Garden. She said she is not the one to organize a show, and asked that someone come forward to take over the club and form a committee to run the show next year.
“There are certain people who want to resurrect it, but I personally don’t want to do it and would welcome someone to take it over,” Brady said.
Ackerman hopes something will happen because the show has been well received.
“People from all around the world came,” she said. “Master gardeners would come in and be awed by our displays. And just people in general were awed by size of our dahlias … begonias… and were amazed by variety of things we grew.”
The Naomi chapter’s passing, however, appears permanent. At least 40 local members are needed to just start a new charter, Ackerman said.
Although the men’s White Pass Masonic Lodge has remained active and successful in attracting young members, the women’s chapter has not. Ackerman said the chapter had the reputation of being “an old lady’s organization” and many of the older members are now gone.
This year would have been the chapter’s 90th in the community – it was chartered in 1920. Ackerman said she is working with the state deputy to allow some of the organization’s artifacts to be turned over to the Skagway Museum or to remain in the lodge to be displayed.
AIDEA wants extended ore shed roof, not a new ship loader
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority will decide in an Aug. 11 meeting if it will commit to being a local match for Skagway in the TIGER II grant application which is due Aug 23.
On July 13, Mayor Tom Cochran, along with Borough Manager Tom Smith and White Pass & Yukon Route President Eugene Hretzay, traveled to Anchorage to meet with the AIDEA board to promote port development and the TIGER II grant application.
“We made a pitch to the AIDEA board and they seemed to be receptive and supportive,” Cochran said.
During the July 20 Skagway Port Commission meeting, Jim Hemsath, AIDEA deputy director of business development, said in a conference call that the board was enthusiastic about the visit.
Hemsath said AIDEA is working on a resolution to present in the upcoming August meeting that proposes a contribution to the TIGER II application local match with the build-out of mineral ore sheds on Skagway’s Ore Dock.
Currently, in certain areas of the ore terminal structure, there is no roof over the ore, said Borough Manager Tom Smith.
“Once it’s mined, it’s important for the mineral ore to be kept out of the weather,” he said.
Hemsath gave an approximate cost of $12 million to fund the shed build-out, and Cochran said he will find out wheher the construction will count towards the local match in regards to the grant.
Because Skagway is a rural area, it does not need to come up with the required 20 percent local match, however Cochran suggests the match will give the municipality an edge. WP&YR also has a project that may qualify for a local match – it is in the process of planning and designing a $2.1 million floating dock behind the ore dock that will improve passenger access. Cochran is also checking to make sure this could be a potentially acceptable match.
Durring the meeting, Hretzay was adamant about trying to change Hemsath’s mind from covering the shed to building a new ship loader as AIDEA’s portion of the match.
Hretzay said a new ship loader would generate a higher volume of mineral content which would allow for the train to be running all the time, creating year-round jobs. Sticking to his position from the last Port Commission meeting, Hemsath said AIDEA would not fund a new ship loader because the current one works fine.
After other ideas of matches from AIDEA, like the new ship loader consistently pressed upon by Hretzay, were turned down, Hemsath said that even if Skagway doesn’t receive the TIGER II grant, AIDEA will still consider doing the shed build-outs.
“We will do it under the assumption that sometime in the future there will be (more) ore coming through,” he said. “We’ll do it without a guarantee which is inconsistent with what we do with other projects.”
When applying for the $20 million TIGER II grant, Cochran said the municipality will ask only for funding for phase one of the three-phased Gateway Project.
Cochran said he thinks it will help to present the project in its entirety in the application, but to add that they will be coming up with local funding for phases two and three.
According to the project summary, current and potential port users are expressing interest for the ore terminal facility to be expanded, modernized and updated to fit environmental expectations.
Phase one of the project includes the purchase and construction of a new ship loader and the following phases include a new dock and passenger handling facilities.
If funding is available, the project is anticipated to begin in 2011 with a completion date in 2013.
Also discussed in the meeting was Resolution 10-21R which was introduced at the July 15 Skagway Borough Assembly meeting.
The resolution, which stated that the Municipality of Skagway would support 20 percent or more of money awarded from the TIGER II grant, was tabled because assembly members didn’t feel comfortable with the words “or more.”
Assemblyman Paul Reichert said that while he supports the applications and the project, he thought that the language “or more” left room for the municipality match to skyrocket. He suggested it be tabled and sent back to the port commission so it could come up with a flat figure.
The port commission decided to scratch the words “or more” from the resolution, leaving the municipality to match 20 percent of the grant, and it will be brought back to the table during the Aug. 5 meeting.
Because the AIDEA board is doing away with a seat held by the DOT commissioner and adding three more seats, Mayor Tom Cochran will be nominating Paul Taylor, local civil engineer and port commission consultant to the AIDEA board. There was no objection from the assembly.
Also, brought up at the port commission meeting was Ordinanc10-1 that passed in the July 1 borough assembly meeting which now recognizes Hretzay as a liaison member to from WP&RT to the commission.
Not only were commission members saying that it was never discussed during meetings and could not be found in the minutes, but Commissioner Gary Hanson said he thinks it may even be illegal to offer a liaison seat to one stakeholder and not the others.
Hanson also added that the commission was enacted to represent the people of Skagway whereas Hretzay is only representing his business, which Hanson understands because it’s his job.
Because only three of the five port commissioners were present, Chair John Tronrud thought it would be best to table talking about further action until all five members are present. – KE
BOROUGH DIGEST (complete digest in print edition)
SMART Bus contract amendments
At its July 15 meeting, the assembly unanimously passed a resolution that called for amending the routes and adding stops to the SMART Bus contract.
A committee will be deciding on the specific changes and additional stops, and the amendment will not affect every scheduled run of each shuttle. Some revisions to the contract aim to improve safety, and others are for are for adding consistency and ease to locating the buses.
While Assemblyman Dan Henry expressed concern that increased stops may result in a lack of service for cruise ship passengers, SMART Bus owner Stuart Brown assured Henry that the use of larger shuttles and the increase in the amount of shuttles used has been successful in accommodating visitors. – GABRIELLE NOMURA
Senior Center meeting next week
Skagway senior citizens, along with those interested in the possibility of a senior facility, are invited to attend a meeting on July 27 at 5 p.m. in the assembly chambers.
Several Skagway seniors have expressed a want for either a senior center or an assisted living facility to be constructed in the location of the old clinic building, which will eventually be torn down because of its poor condition.
A committee chaired by Skagway Borough Assemblywoman Colette Hisman and made up of Tim Cochran, and Kathy O’Daniel met two weeks ago to discuss some preliminary ideas.
In the 90s, Hisman said she led a senior citizen task force in an attempt to create a center for seniors of Skagway, but she said those who wanted it didn’t support the idea enough to get anything started.
Cochran said in order for the assisted living facility to be an option, there needs to be six to eight residents signed up and ready to move into the building before they go through with construction. He said he would like to see affordable living options for the seniors of Skagway.
To gain perspective for what Skagway seniors want for the property, Hisman said she plans to check out hot spots like the senior lunch, while O’Daniel, who will be working towards earning a masters degree in gerontology, said she would like to take a trip to Haines to see how its assisted living facility works. All three agreed that there are enough seniors in Skagway who would be positively affected by an assisted living facility. – KATIE EMMETS