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

Editorial

 


A push to revoke the borough’s motor vehicle tax no doubt will have some popular appeal. No one likes paying taxes and the borough has been slow rolling out its abandoned-car removal program.

But this tax needs to increase, not go away, if people expect to be able to drive on local roads.

Maintaining borough roads – building them, paving them, plowing them, repairing them – costs the borough millions. Most of the borough’s annual $600,000 public works budget goes for road maintenance. But for decades drivers have gotten a free ride. Local sales tax has subsidized road maintenance and the State of Alaska, through grants from the Legislature, has picked up the tab for construction.

Now that the state has hardly enough money to maintain its own roads, it’s appropriate and necessary for local motorists to start paying their share for upkeep of the municipality’s roads and streets. The assembly should increase the motor vehicle tax to $25 per year, and use the difference from the existing tax to start building a roads fund.

The free rides are over. A local motor vehicle tax is a most democratic user fee for helping maintain the town’s roads. Without it, you’ll pay for roads in the form of funding cuts to your favorite borough programs.

Anyone with money enough to drive a car can afford to pay $25 a year to help maintain the roads they drive on.

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On September 13, 1990, the Chilkat Valley News reported that City of Haines Police chief Don Yerrick drove his squad car into a telephone pole on Soapsuds Alley.

Yerrick told the newspaper that he had taken his eyes off the road to reach for a briefcase sliding off a seat. On the official accident report, he listed himself as the cause.

“The pole was in its rightful place. I was not,” Yerrick told the newspaper. “I wish I could say that a deer ran out in front of me, or something else, but there’s no one to blame but me. It’s a lesson learned.”

The crash was newsworthy but not of larger significance and the six-paragraph news story about it ran on page 4 of the CVN.

On Jan. 5, Haines Borough police officer Brayton Long accidentally shot himself on the lower arm during training at the Haines Sportsman’s Association rifle range.

Like Yerrick’s crash, Long’s accident was probably a little embarrassing. But it was also understandable, as police handle dangerous weapons as part of their work, and stuff happens. Like Yerrick’s crash, the shooting was of interest, but not a big issue.

Long’s shooting ran on the front page Jan. 7 in part because it was something of a mystery; no one at the police force or borough could explain how it happened.

Unlike Yerrick’s crash, Long’s accident became a bigger story because in a borough-arranged interview late last week, police and borough officials – including Long – still couldn’t explain it. There’s something wrong with that.

Taxpayers spend $1 million a year on a police department on the premise that cops can figure out crimes and accidents and explain to the public things like the circumstances of a shooting. At the very minimum, we’d expect they could say how one of their own was accidentally shot during a training session.

We imagine it’s not a long or complicated story.

The Chilkat Valley News has spent a barrel of ink in the past few years reporting on dysfunction at the Haines Police force. We were hoping it wouldn’t continue.

But if police can’t produce even a simple explanation of how Long shot himself, the department once again is shooting itself in the foot.

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A “Tier 3” designation might be a good idea for protecting water quality in the Chilkat River, but backers need to bring more information to the table, as well as some objective, agency officials to fully explain its implications.

The Upper Lynn Canal Fish and Game Advisory Committee on Jan.14 wisely backed off endorsing the designation, after questions were raised about what it might entail for various future uses of the river. The Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Advisory Council took a similar position in October.

The Chilkat Indian Village is pushing for the designation in advance of potential mine development at the Palmer Project near 40 Mile Haines Highway, seeking to protect salmon runs that are its lifeblood. That’s understandable.

The village, through its representative Gershon Cohen, says the designation only would impact users requiring a state discharge permit – such as a mine – and that other users won’t be impacted.

Cohen also says the increased protection will only hold mine supporters to their already stated goals of not impacting the river.

If Cohen’s right, “Tier 3” might be an effective tool for holding developers of a mine to their promises. But more information – specifically on potential, unforeseen drawbacks, provided by a neutral, agency source – is a necessary starting point for an educated decision on the requested endorsement.

-- Tom Morphet

 
 

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