By Rodney Dial
July 29, 2011
I have contacted and spoken with members of the Borough Manager's Office, Borough Attorney and enlisted the help of a law firm out of Juneau (Baxter, Bruce and Sullivan).
The consensus appears to be that changing to a home-rule government would not directly lead to consolidation, but could set the stage for a future attempt. Essentially, this is what the borough is proposing:
1. Voters will decide in October to approve, or not approve formation of a Charter Commission to examine changing the borough from a “General Law” Borough to a “Home Rule” Borough.
2. If approved, a Charter Commission will be tasked with presenting a plan, which is essentially a local constitution, for what the commission believes the home rule borough should look like.
3. The “plan” will be submitted to voters. If approved our local government changes and must follow that “plan”. If not approved, the commission goes back to work and develops a second plan to be voted on. If the second plan is rejected the commission is dissolved.
Various benefits are touted by the borough and some of our elected leaders that may result from the change, such as tax caps, restrictions on local government, etc.
However, for me the real question was “Why?”. Why go to the expense, and assemble seven people for years, when ALL of the possible changes can be accomplished now by the Borough Assembly with referendum(s) presented to the voters for approval? If the true reason was to give the public certain protections, then why not present that to the voters instead of a request to form a commission?
In discussions with my attorney about this issue he relayed that the borough informational document on this change is technically true in the positives, but absent of any negatives. Further, that the change in government allows the new government to expand its powers and avoid some duties imposed by State Law.
Ultimately, my guess is that one of the reasons this is being proposed is due to the ongoing “beef” the Borough has with the State over School funding. Many years ago the area outside the city was unorganized (no local government). As such, the State was responsible for providing all basic services such as education at no cost to the citizens. Around 1963, some were led to believe that forming an organized borough would provide the ability to tax ourselves for the “extras” some wanted that were not provided by the State, while still allowing us to receive the basic services for free. As history so clearly shows, once Ketchikan (the region) became an organized borough, shifting of services (costs) began from the State to the local level. This service shifting has cost us dearly ever since. Just last year we spent approximately 13 million of local taxes to support our schools. To put this in perspective, numerous communities, in 36 percent of the school districts in the State, pay nothing… zero! for their local education because they have refused to form local governments.
What is truly ironic is that many of our same borough leaders, so upset with this service shifting of the past, are so oblivious of the additional service shifting of the future, certain to occur if we ever consolidate. There should be no doubt by anyone knowledgeable on the matter, that if we consolidate we will go the way of Juneau, Sitka, Anchorage Hillside, and many other communities and find ourselves paying millions per year for state services we now enjoy for free.
I’ve digressed enough, but believe the borough feels, or hopes, that the commission will develop a charter mandating the state to provide the education funding it did in the past before we organized. The idea is nice in theory, but if it were possible I am confident that other home rule governments would have found a way to make it happen long ago. Keep in mind that per Alaska Statue (law), governmental changes must be in the best interest of the State… not local communities.
Unfortunately we can’t un-ring the bell that resulted in the organization of the borough, and the accompanying average tax liability of $11,826 per household that came with that decision. What we can do is prevent our current band of Pro-Consolidation dimwits from ringing the bell again and making the situation much worse.
It has been said that if we approve a charter commission they will have no authority to recommend consolidation. While this may be true, there is nothing that would prevent them from presenting a charter “plan” to accomplish the effects of consolidation, without consolidating.
Question the motives of some of our leaders, and let’s consider the history of this island over the last several decades:
After numerous previous “No” votes concerning consolidation / unification, I believe supporters finally understand the definition of insanity….e.g. “Doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results”. Putting consolidation before the voters AGAIN would be DOA.
So, like has been done many times before in this community, when arrogant elected officials can’t get the public to support (vote) for “X”, they simply find a way to go around the voter and “do it anyway”. Prime examples of this are the 100 million dollar Berth IV contract and the Whitecliff building. Both projects should have gone to a public vote. However, when our leaders realized that the prospects of the public approving bonds for these projects was slim, they instead entered into contracts to avoid a vote.
Here is the deal with Consolidation:
On May 27th, 2006, Governor Frank Murkowski signed HB 133 into law which changed the way local governments can force consolidation on their citizens.
Specifically, HB 133 amended AS (Alaska Statue) 29.06.040(c)(1) requiring the proposed annexation (or consolidation) to be approved by a “majority of the votes on the question cast by voters residing in the area proposed to be annexed”.
Before HB 133 all local government had to do was put the consolidation issue before all voters in the area (city and non city) and if a majority approved, consolidation would take place. After HB 133, essentially two yes votes are required. One from City voters approving the expansion of the municipality and the other from the non city voters approving annexation into the municipality. If either vote fails, consolidation fails.
The sponsor statement for HB 133 read: This legislation is about fairness, preserving a representative form of government, and making sure that laws implemented by non-elected servants of government through regulation do not extend beyond the laws implemented by elected legislators.
One of the prime supporters of HB 133 was Representative Coghill (Fairbanks). Consolidation supporters have been trying and failing in the Fairbanks region for years to consolidate the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the City of Fairbanks. Citizens there, just like in Ketchikan have been saying... “NO” over and over. Representative Coghill in his support of this bill said: “The Alaska Constitution supports the ideal that government from the bottom up is always best, whenever that is possible… HB 133 puts a strong emphasis on getting people involved in local governance.”
In their support of HB 133, the Alaska Legislature and Governor Murkowski knew that without adequate protections over zealous local governments would and could, force consolidation and annexation on their citizens against their will. The Shoreline neighborhood (Ketchikan) near Wal-Mart is a prime example. City officials ravenous to tax Wal-Mart annexed the Shoreline area against their will. In doing so, residents of Shoreline had their property taxes doubled with no real noticeable increase in services. Over the years this has cost the average homeowner in the Shoreline area thousands of dollars.
In the history of Alaska, consolidation has never led to lower taxes for its citizens. Consolidation has always led to bigger and more expensive government. Simple observation shows that the larger a community becomes, the higher the tax burdens become.
The last consolidation petition stated that areawide property taxes were projected to increase by 2 mills to pay for 2.1 million in increased costs. Further, as was reported by me, and verified weeks after the last consolidation vote, consolidation would have cost our community over 2 million per year in lost cruise ship tax revenue. Consolidation would have also led to “service shifting” from the State to the local government that would have added millions more to our budget yearly.
Every citizen on this island is a member of the borough regardless of where they live. As long as the Borough remains a “second-class, general law borough” consolidation can not take place without an affirmative vote from city, and non city residents.
If you are a local government official hell bent on consolidation, and realize that HB 133 requires all residents to vote to consolidate, and you know they never will (e.g. several no votes) how do you force consolidation?
Change the borough to a home-rule government.
A home rule borough can avoid some duties imposed by State law on general law boroughs (what we are now).
“A home-rule charter affords opportunities not available to citizens of a second-class borough to limit and/or expand various powers…
The aforementioned two paragraphs are word for word from the BOROUGH website on this topic. The key words on these two paragraphs are “avoid some duties” and “expand various powers”.
Source: KGH Charter Information
Supporters of this change, in their attempt to deceive you, state that the charter commission you will be asked vote for on the October ballot, will have no authority to propose consolidation. While technically true, it is not the commission we need to worry about, it is the change to our government that may allow them to bypass HB 133 or other requirements and force consolidation.
I would strongly encourage you to read the borough statement on why we should change our government to home-rule status. Read all the wonderful things some elected officials “feel” this will do for us and ask the simple question:
What would changing our form of government do, that the borough assembly could not CURRENTLY do with a simple referendum, regarding ANY of these changes, placed on the ballot for the voters to decide?...the answer is NOTHING!
Keep in mind that our Borough Manager was the lead representative on the Local Boundary Commission, responsible for submission of the last consolidation plan to the state. He worked for years to consolidate our community and after the last failed attempt at consolidation was hired as the Borough Manager. Many believe that he was selected as Borough Manager by those who hoped he would help bring forth future consolidation attempts. This may be his motive in recommending this change in our current form of government.
What we can do…
Talk to your neighbors about trading the devil we know, for the devil we don’t know. There is no reason to approve a commission to waste taxpayer money, for purported possible benefits…none of which are guaranteed, and all of which can be achieved with our current form of government.
Changing our form of government is irrevocable and ill advised change and comes with numerous unintended consequences. For information, this will be the second time voters have weighed in on this issue. Voters have previously rejected a borough attempt to change to a home rule government in 1986. Once again, our votes are not being respected.
Please vote “No” on the formation of the Charter to protect your rights and the value of your vote.
Received July 29, 2011 - Published July 29, 2011
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