A handful of people told the Haines Borough Assembly that
their assessment cards violated local and state law. (Photo by
Rashah McChesney/Chilkat Valley News)
A handful of people told the Haines Borough Assembly on March 26, 2024 that their 2024 assessment cards violated local and state law. (Photo by
Rashah McChesney/Chilkat Valley News)

Changes to the property tax assessment 

Much of the meeting was dominated by public testimony from members pushing the assembly to adopt changes proposed by an ad hoc committee it created in 2023 to look into the borough’s tax assessment process. The borough faced a lot of pushback after last year’s assessments when some people saw steep increases in their assessments. 

The ad hoc committee submitted recommendations for rule changes to the assembly in late December and several members of the public criticized the assembly for taking so long to address those recommendations. Ultimately the assembly approved two of the three proposals.One creates five-member hearing panels within the board of equalization that can hear assessment appeals in order to move through the process more quickly. Another requires properties to be assessed at their full and true value and requires the board of equalization to make specific findings on record to support its decisions when it rules against people who are appealing. The assembly punted a third – one dealing with how much information the assessor must provide to people appealing their property tax assessments – to the April 9 meeting. It also asked for a legal review of that proposal. 

Jake Brakes

The assembly voted unanimously to require vehicles using engine – or Jake – brakes to muffle them or have a noise-suppressing system to keep them quiet. Engine brakes are designed to save vehicles’ brakes when they’re coming down a steep grade so they don’t heat up or, at least, not as fast as they would otherwise. People who favor the restriction, like Joanie Wagner, said Jake brakes are noisy and that she and her neighbors have been complaining about it for some time. But detractors say it’s a safety issue if they aren’t used. Don Turner, owner of Turner Construction, said he didn’t understand what has changed in the Chilkat Valley given that there has been trucking for decades. “It’s just another kick for businesses,” Turner said. 

A violation of the requirement to use a muffler would result in a fine of $100, but could go up to $300 for repeat violations.  There’s an exemption in place for emergency vehicles. 

Controversy of an executive session with the Chilkat Valley Rural Citizens Group 

Toward the end of the meeting, Assembly members also voted to head into an executive session to meet with the Chilkat Valley Rural Citizens group that is currently appealing a conditional use permit the borough granted for a heliport.The exact justification for going into the closed-door meeting was in dispute as generally those meetings are limited to assembly members and a few city staff and, in this case, two dozen people were invited to stay. Ultimately, the assembly decided unanimously to go into a closed session with the justification that they’d be discussing an issue that could have an adverse effect on the finances of the government. 

The borough’s attorney, Charles Cacciola, advised them multiple times that meeting in a closed session with the group they’re intending to settle with could be difficult to justify. 

Cacciola told them “if you’re discussing with them – the party you’re going to settle with – it’s difficult to see how that [exemption] would apply.” 

Port fees for cruise ship passengers 

The assembly also voted to support an $8.50 “Development, Impact, and Cultural Preservation” fee for cruise ship passengers recommended by the tourism advisory board. This fee could bring in something like $500,000 to the borough beginning in 2025, but the issue will come up to the assembly again, where they’ll have to vote on how the fees will be used. 

Tourism director Rebecca Hylton said she plans to communicate with the cruise ships this week to let them know what the borough will be charging and “let them know that this is what’s coming so they can start pricing accordingly,” she said. 

Hylton also told the assembly that having a fee specifically devoted to funding cultural preservation is groundbreaking. 

“I’m super excited to be a part of this. I can’t find anything else in the United States that has this so there definitely needs to be a lot of work and it needs to be vetted properly,” she said. “I also think it’s the ethical thing to do as well. I think we’re going to be put on the map because of this.”