May 1, 2014 | Volume 44, Number 17

Chamber drops sauna support

The Haines Chamber of Commerce board has rescinded its offer to help raise money for a sauna at the Haines pool.

After months of roadblocks and resistance, the Haines Borough Assembly last week agreed to fund maintenance of a sauna to be installed at the pool and purchased through private donations.

It’s estimated to cost $6,500.

The Chamber initially volunteered to coordinate fundraising efforts if the assembly agreed to pay the estimated annual $800 in operating costs. However, the chamber board later voted to rescind its offer.

Chamber president Barbara Mulford said several chamber members came forward and said they didn’t support the organization’s involvement in the project.

“We had several members come to us and say it should not be a role of the chamber because it doesn’t have to do with businesses,” Mulford said.

The opponents weren’t swayed by the argument that improvements like a sauna would draw more “location-neutral” residents to Haines, thus helping the economy, Mulford said.

Mulford said it was her understanding the borough is looking for a different nonprofit to raise the money. “They were considering the Senior Center or the Dolphins swim team, but they do believe they need a nonprofit to collect those funds,” she said.

Executive assistant to the borough manager Darsie Culbeck, who spearheaded the sauna push, wasn’t available for comment this week.

Before the ordinance’s passage April 22, the sauna had been rejected twice by the assembly. The assembly first rejected a proposal for a borough-funded sauna, then rejected a proposal for a public-private partnership.

The assembly took up the issue for a third time after assembly member Joanne Waterman asked for it to return to the agenda following a meeting where member George Campbell’s single vote in opposition killed the measure. (Votes of all four members present were required for passage.)

Last week, Campbell again voted against the measure. “I would like to see this in our budget for the pool and discuss it at budget time. We’re not talking $1,000, we’re talking $1,000 per year, and we’re actually probably talking more by the time we maintain it, and the staff has to clean it,” Campbell said.

Borough manager David Sosa said he is further investigating maintenance costs of a sauna.

Mayor Stephanie Scott said she was willing to gamble on the sauna. “We are told that the estimated operating cost for electricity will be less than $1,000 per year. Even if it is twice that much, I do think that the community can bear that expense. Like the pellet boiler, it is an experiment. I am game to see what happens,” Scott said.

The 48-square-foot sauna would be sited on the pool’s deck near the east stairs to the balcony.