May 17, 2012 | Volume 42, No.20

Assembly drops pay phone request

The Haines Borough Assembly last week hung up on a proposal to refer a discussion of pay phones to a committee.

Newspaper editor Tom Morphet, at the request of Mayor Stephanie Scott, prepared a resolution asking Alaska Power and Telephone to reactivate a half-dozen pay phones around town. Morphet took interest in the issue last spring, after AP&T removed the valley’s last eight pay phones.

“In a few places there has been, actually, a net decrease in phone service,” Morphet said. “At 33 Mile, where our heli-ski industry is located, there is no cellular service and there was once one pay phone there.”

Morphet also sent Scott options for getting a few pay phones, including asking AP&T to reinstall phones, seeking a state-subsidized “public interest pay phone” or having the borough provide limited pay phone service.

“I’ve been in the tourism business for 40 years,” said assembly member Norm Smith. “I used to have a phone in each one of my seven rooms. I took them all out, because everybody that comes to town and stays, they have their cell phone.”

He said phones for public use are available at the ferry terminal, visitor center and border. The ferry terminal and visitor center have indoor, courtesy phones available for local calls during business hours. There’s only an office phone at the border.

Morphet’s draft resolution requested AP&T install pay phones at the Haines airport, ferry terminal, 33 Mile Roadhouse, Main Street, visitor center and Port Chilkoot Dock “as a gesture of goodwill, public service, neighborliness, and concern for safety.”

“I felt some of the language there was a little bit more of a guilt trip, is all I’ve got to say, and I would consider rewording some of that,” said member Joanne Waterman.

Scott suggested the assembly refer the pay phone issue to the borough’s government affairs and services committee. Member Steve Vick then moved to put the item on the agenda for the next regular assembly meeting, instead, because he wasn’t sure it was “a big enough topic to talk about at the committee level.”

Vick ended up voting against his motion in a 3-3 vote, with members Smith and Jerry Lapp also opposed. The motion failed after Scott joined in the “no” votes to break the tie.

“If, in fact, we’re a community that wants to be inviting to visitors, I think that we need to have the kinds of amenities that visitors expect to see,” said member Debra Schnabel. “For me, coming into a community where there’s no phone at the points of entry or exit is disturbing.”

Daymond Hoffman, Smith, Vick and Waterman then voted against referring the issue to committee.

“I think more people are asking where the Wi-Fi hot spots are these days,” Hoffman said.