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

Planners: Don't expand borough

 


The Haines Borough Planning Commission quashed the idea of expanding borough boundaries after the assembly referred the idea to planners last month.

Interim manager Brad Ryan and borough lobbyist Bill Thomas discussed expanding the borough’s boundaries as a potential revenue generating measure and Ryan suggested it to the assembly during his manager’s report.

Borough planner Holly Smith asked the commission Thursday if it wanted to pursue the question. She said boroughs across the state are expanding, and it’s a trend that’s likely to continue.

“(The legislature) set up this system in our state laws where basically all the boroughs are trying to come together so that there’s no more open area,” Smith said. “That’s just going to keep happening. It’s going to happen. Sitka is probably going to encompass Pelican and Elfin Cove someday.”

Commissioner Rob Miller didn’t see how the borough would make much money from extending its boundaries.

“Unless Gustavus is included, which I can assure you will be a major fight, how is this going to raise revenue for the borough?” Miller asked. “Are there tax-paying lands? How much money are we talking about and what’s the upside because when I look at a map I see we are hemmed in between Skagway, Juneau and a lot of mountains between us and Glacier Bay.”

Commissioner Brenda Josephson said the City of Dillingham started the process of expanding its boundaries in 2010 but was denied, resulting in wasted time and legal fees.

The commission denied Dillingham, in part, because the city did not propose new services in the extended boundaries they proposed, but to enhance services already in place, according to a state document.

“I think people are losing sight that you’re obligated to provide services, too,” Josephson said. “I think this is something that can be a long course. I think attorneys could get really rich on it. I think it’s going to consume a lot of people’s time, staff and a local boundary commission. I’m not supportive of this.”

Commissioner Jeremy Stephens cited state law and said a borough can’t annex more territory solely for revenue.

“There’s a lot of things that this local boundary commission has to reject the application on,” Stephens said. “I feel like this is coming to us a little premature. I feel like there’s a lot of reasons behind it that should be clarified by the manager and/or the assembly before we can really be tasked with anything.”

Juneau is looking to expand its boundaries south onto Admiralty Island and some smaller communities might like to join the Haines Borough, rather than Juneau, said resident Mike Mackowiak.

“Oftentimes there are promises to the people being absorbed that they’re going to have some grand service or something to make up for it, but the reality is that’s not how it works,” Mackowiak said. “However, having said that, it would be a tax benefit to the Haines Borough if the borough boundaries were larger. I think the only way to pursue it without having endless legal battles might be to ask some of the communities if they would want to join the borough.”

Commission chair Rob Goldberg suggested communities like Pelican, Gustavus, Hoonah and Elfin Cove should form their own “Icy Straits Borough.”

“I can’t think of one situation where some small community said ‘Yeah, annex us!’” Goldberg said. “It just doesn’t happen and it just creates more contention between people.”

“I don’t think there’s a lot of sentiment on the planning commission to have the assembly pursue this,” Goldberg told Heather Lende, the assembly’s liaison to the commission.

 
 

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