Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966



It’s good for the Haines Borough to mandate an application and review process for non-profits to qualify for a community service property tax exemption. The assembly should rightly check to see if groups are serving the community sufficiently to warrant such an exemption.

But changes to code should stop there.

A person need only look at the law for borough variances to understand that there’s no way to create a scientific formula for granting a property tax exemption for non-profits. Borough code establishes a list of specific criteria for granting a variance, but controversial variances still come down to a very subjective, very human judgment call.

Were there algebraic equations for settling political questions, we could dispense with government altogether. There aren’t and we can’t.

Citizens elect leaders to make judgment calls. For decades we’ve trusted our leaders to make calls on which non-profits serve the community sufficiently to warrant a property tax exemption. This system isn’t broken.

Further, it’s worrisome that the borough is spending so much in resources to make non-profits jump through new hoops.

In Haines, non-profits do the work of the community for a fraction of the cost it would take government to do the same job. Compared to union-scale wages and tax dollars that run government, non-profits get by on low wages, volunteers, memberships, fundraisers, grants and goodwill.

(If you doubt this, consider dog-catching. This job was once done by a government worker, typically a public works employee who did a lackluster job but took it on as a stepping stone to an operator position. The nonprofit HARK, which likes dogs, now actually catches them.)

Because non-profits stretch a dollar farther than government can, our borough needs to find new ways to support them and new ways to transfer borough functions and funds to them. Here’s an idea: Set borough contributions to non-profits at 1 percent of the borough budget.

For a $12 million borough budget, that’s $120,000 to non-profits. That’s a small investment for groups that do a big job around here.

Freeride World Tour’s long wait for a blue-sky day brought to mind expensive waits from the past.

Alaska Dispatch News photographer Bob Hallinen spent the better part of November once waiting for just one sunny day to shoot bald eagles in the preserve. Hallinen was here in the mid-1980s when the preserve was new and people in the rest of the state wanted to know what it was about.

At the time, the McClatchy Company was dumping money into the Anchorage-based newspaper, but Haines weather eventually broke even its expense accounts: Hallinen wound up moving out of a motel and sleeping on my cabin floor to get his shots.

Local weather made even Walt Disney wait. During the filming of “White Fang” here in 1990, low clouds prevented filmmakers from shipping out their daily film shots to editors in Seattle. A planned six-week winter shoot instead dragged out to three months, and the movie’s budget swelled from $8 million to $14 million.

The movie made $35 million and Disney said it was all good, but they’ve never been back, nor have creators of any other feature-length film.

The town has seen about four reality TV shows, but it’s unclear how many of them will be returning following the State of Alaska’s decision last month to suspend a tax credit program. It has paid out about $85 million statewide for such shows, covering 30 percent or more of in-state expenses.

Freeride World Tour racked up some bills here, waiting for bluebird weather. The show has been a welcome shot of income for local businesses and the energy and attitute of its young competitors perked up our town. But don’t bet on a repeat.

Gravel-voiced narrators of extreme sports events can go on about “legendary” Alaska, but a lot of our legend is winter weather, which reliably hovers somewhere between bad and unpredictable. One bluebird day in 11 is about par for this course.

Were it any different, there’d be more than 2,500 of us bugs hunkered down in this crack in the icefield.

Friends of Mosquito Lake School and Community Center are frustrated that Haines Borough and School District administrators aren’t doing more to help them find a way to keep the facility open.

The Friends may be barking up the wrong tree.

A recent story in the CVN showed that Klukwan School also has faced potential closure in recent years, due to enrollments threatening to dip below 10 students.

The differerence in the fates of two schools appears to be more about attitude than numbers. Chatham School District and Klukwan’s Advisory school board are determined to keep the village school open, even when the village doesn’t have 10 students within its boundaries.

To maintain enrollment, Chatham has bused students up to the school from town. Klukwan School also launched a preschool program aimed at recruiting students into the school at a young age. It’s evident that village and Chatham district leaders are willing to do what it takes to keep a school open there.

If members of the Haines Borough and school board adopted a similar attitude toward Mosquito Lake School (or Mosquito Lake Community Center), charting the the building’s future would be much easier. Positive action gives energy; worry and indecision saps it.

The upper valley is a magnet for young people, particularly young families being priced out of Juneau by high rents and expensive real estate. A school or community center makes the neighborhood that much more attractive.

We all know this because we know how important the Haines School and “community centers” like the Chilkat Center, swimming pool and public library are to attracting new residents to the townsite area and keeping those folks here.

Mothballing or selling Mosquito Lake School would be a grave mistake. A school or community center there would serve as an anchor for the neighborhood’s stability and growth. And growth there benefits our entire borough. - Tom Morphet


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