By Richard L. Burton
July 03, 2006
I am sending you a copy of the letter dated 02/24/00 that I presented in public concerning the issue of consolidation. I still have the same concerns today...
Richard L. Burton
I wasn't going to come to this meeting. That is until I read yesterdays paper where my name was mentioned. It wasn't so much that my name was used in the article but rather that it credited me with a statement that is not entirely factual. In fact it was other less than factual statements that really prompts me to speak here tonight.
First, I want to clarify the statement that says that I recommended that the draft charter be modified, in order to allow the Assembly the discretion to exercise police powers on an areawide basis. This is half true!!! What I said but maybe didn't make clear is that when, not if, it is necessary to provide extended police service to areas outside the current city boundaries, a mechanism should be in place to facilitate the implementation of the process. I will elaborate on that later.
Second, are questions posed by the city but which appear to have been questions that I asked? Will consolidation result in the State Troopers withdrawing from Ketchikan? And; Does consolidation mean that City law enforcement powers will be exercised on an areawide basis? Both good questions and I'm glad they have been asked.
The article also makes the claim that "The City has received assurances from the present Public Safety Commissioner, Ron Otte, that consolidation in and of itself will not result in the State Troopers withdrawing from Ketchikan. Similar assurances have been secured from the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities as it relates to State road powers".
I can't speak for the assurance from DOT but I hope that it is based on better information than the alleged assurance from Commissioner Otte.
I know for a fact that the City has not received assurance from Commissioner Otte. This statement made by the City is based on a letter dated July 6, 1998 from Otte to then Commissioner Mike Irwin with Community and Regional Affairs. I first heard this statement at a council meeting I attended about 2 months ago. At that time I asked for a copy of the document that contained this assurance and was expecting to receive a letter addressed to the Mayor and Council. For the record I will read the letter, which was provided to me by Mayor Weinstein.
When I saw the date and that the letter was not addressed to the City, I recommended that the Mayor or Manager revisit this issue with Commissioner Otte for several reasons. A lot had happened in the meantime, which may have changed the ability of the Commissioner to give this " assurance".
I spoke to Commissioner Otte then and again yesterday February 23rd. He stated that he has never, repeat never, been contacted directly by anyone from the City of Ketchikan regarding this issue. Incidentally he also asked me to extend an invitation to you to do so and pay him a visit when you make your lobbying trip to Juneau next week. His phone number is 465-4322.
Will the Troopers stay after consolidation? There is no way that we have the claimed assurance of the state that they will provide continued Public Safety/Police protection to a newly unified municipality. Factors bearing on this are the fact that drastic budget cuts have occurred for the past several years and municipal revenue sharing has been drastically reduced. There is no reason to expect anything but more of the same.
A look at the budget history of the Troopers also makes it seem unlikely that they would continue serving an area that has opted to assume areawide powers. Just since 1998 (the date of the letter used by the City as assurance of no reduction in trooper strength) Trooper positions have gone from 258 to 237. This is 21 positions, which is comparable to the strength of the Ketchikan Police Department.
From 1983 to 2000 the numbers went from 308 to 237. A loss of 71 positions or 23% of Trooper strength. For the same period the population of the state increased by 122,900, up 25%. Population up 25%troopers down 23%I guess the correlation that you can make from this is that if the population keeps growing we will reach a point where we will not have any troopers.
We all know that the legislature is on a tack to cut the budget at all costs, or slash and burn budgeting. There is no reason to believe that this trend will change anytime soon. Unfortunately the Senator representing this area has for several years been an adversary of the department and the troopers and to my knowledge has never been supportive of their budget. So you can't expect any support from there.
I believe that after consolidation the question will not be if the troopers will be reduced, but rather a matter of when, and by how much???? It would be a natural reaction of the legislature to view a home rule municipality as a place to cut state services.
Some of you may not know that the State, the Department and the Commissioner of Public Safety are being sued by a group of native villages from around the state for failing to provide adequate police protection in rural areas. These villages for the most part have no revenue base on which to obtain money to support such activity. It may be sometime before the case is resolved either through settlement or court decision but it could have an effect on the decision making of both the legislature and the administration. This is especially true in light of the Governor's current efforts in meeting with the rural native groups concerning police protection and other rural issues. The Department of Public Safety may be forced by either political pressure or a possible court edict to shift personnel.
Section 12.04 (d) relates to expansion or reduction of powers: In part it says " a municipality may exercise additional service area powers in that service area".."Only by an ordinance adopted by the assembly and approved by a majority of the voters residing within the service area".
Section 12.05: Criteria for Establishing Service Areas.
"Service areas shall be established according to criteria of need and economic operating efficiency and shall comprise the area to which the services shall be provided. A new service area shall be established only after Assembly determination that such services cannot be reasonably provided by an existing service area or by alteration of an existing service area".
Does this mean that the assembly may decide that for the purposes of police protection that the entire municipality could become one service area known as the Ketchikan Police Service Area and have an areawide vote to extend police service? This is how Anchorage finally forced the residents of the hillside area to pay for local police services.
Would this then lower the tax rate for those now inside the city and increase the rate in the current borough service areas? Are you familiar with the Anchorage Hillside issue? I have a copy of the decision resulting from a lawsuit filed by the hillside residents. It went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the authority of the city to do just that even though their charter said that no service would be extended to a service area without the approval of the residents of the area affected. Does this sound familiar???? I suggest that you read it and I would like to know if your attorney would give his opinion, in writing, if such a thing could be done here under the language of the proposed charter.
WHAT IF SCENARIO:
For just pretend. let's say the consolidation goes through and the Troopers are pulled out, or reduced to the point that adequate protection is no longer provided throughout the new municipality.
Are there any plans or projections that have been prepared that shows what would be proposed in the number of positions required, equipment needed and the amount of money the city would want to extend police service areawide? If so I would like to see it! If not then I think we should have one prepared so that we know what we may expect when the new municipality would have to assume that responsibility. Which as I said before will most likely be a matter of WHEN not IF!!!!
Of course another option is as you know that the city does not have to provide for a police department since it is not one of the three mandated responsibilities. In fact the local police department could be disbanded and we could rely totally on the state.
The Department of Public Safety (and the State Troopers) is the only agency charged by state law to enforce the criminal laws of the State of Alaska, I certainly am not advocating that be done and hope I don't read in tomorrows paper that this is what I recommend. I only point that out because the general public is unaware of this.
My concern is that the current Ketchikan Police Department with a staff of I believe 23 officers in a population of about 8600 (a ratio of 1 officer for every 374 residents), would ask to increase by a comparable level if required to go areawide. This could amount to a possible increase of 15 to 17 new positions to replace the trooper staff of 6 that is assigned to the Ketchikan post. This has been the case in other areas that have been taken over by municipalities such as the Anchorage hillside area.
When, again I say When, this happens, next year, 2 years, 5 years or 10 years from now I can see the tax rate certainly increasing in the areas currently outside the city limits. As I said earlier I would like to see a projection of the costs to have the city expand their police service on an areawide basis.
In conclusion, I do not understand why the Mayor or the City Manager has not contacted Commissioner Otte. I recommended that you do so but that recommendation either fell on deaf ears or was ignored for reasons that I can only surmise. You cannot rely on a two-year-old memo as "assurances" that the troopers will not be cut or transferred to other areas of the state. To do so is a reckless disregard of the responsibility of your office and to the public you serve. Passing off the memo from Commissioner Otte, which was not even addressed to you as this alleged assurance is misleading at best. Other than believing that you have some hidden agenda, I am at a loss to understand why you have deliberately failed to communicate directly with Commissioner Otte. Is it that maybe you do not want the answer that I believe you would receive today. In the absence of a rational explanation I suspect this to be true.
In closing, the more I have examined this issue, and after observing your handling of the shoreline incident, I believe you have failed to be upfront and open in providing the full facts of what may happen if consolidation occurs.
Unless, and until I am convinced
that there is no hidden agenda in all this I personally will
not support consolidation and I will urge others to do the same.
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.