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

Expanded police service still murky


July 27, 2017 | View PDF

A complex, borough-wide police service area draft ordinance might come before voters this October, but some residents and assembly members say it needs to be simplified and restructured.

Since the Alaska State Troopers eliminated its trooper position from the borough last winter, the community has been discussing what presence the police should have outside city limits.

After two community meetings with residents in Mud Bay, Lutak and out Haines Highway, the general consensus indicated they wanted emergency 911 response but not active patrolling. How those residents wanted to pay for that service wasn’t entirely clear.

The borough assembly directed staff to come up with ideas for creating and funding a “Community Safety Service Area.”

The borough currently funds ambulance services through a “medical service area.” Half a percent of the overall 5.5 percent borough sales tax, roughly $277,000 a year, pays for ambulance calls borough-wide.

The draft ordinance would combine police, ambulance and related dispatch services into one service area called the proposed service area, which includes, roughly, all borough land north of Sullivan Island.

Borough manager Debra Schnabel presented four funding options that range from reallocating sales tax from various funds, including tourism and economic development, to increasing property tax to pay for police service.

Other funding possibilities not included in the ordinance but discussed by assembly members include alcohol and marijuana taxes.

Schnabel asked police chief Heath Scott to present a five-year budget projection of how much it would cost the department to police outside the townsite. The average came out to around $120,000.

Haines Volunteer Fire Department Chief Brian Clay didn’t want medical funding to be included with police. Clay said the nature of police service offered in the ordinance isn’t defined and he’s afraid it will cut into his department’s funding.

“I think there’s a fund balance in the property taxes that you can probably pay for the police to respond to 911 calls out the road...please take me out of the conversation,” Clay said.

Volunteer firefighter Cindy Jones took issue with the anticipated cost, which includes hiring a sixth police officer, combined with ambulance funding. Jones said while she’s very supportive of police service, she wants to keep the funding mechanism separate.

“At that rate you might as well just require a commission, badge and gun to serve on the ambulance company since there will be no funds remaining for volunteers,” Jones said during the meeting. “The whole issue is very simple in my mind. The people of the townsite, the old city, have forever paid through their property taxes for police services.”

She said residents outside the townsite should pay for any increased police service with property taxes.

An additional funding complication exists because of a contradiction in Haines Borough Charter and Haines Borough Code. Charter states services can be funded from a variety of revenue streams. Borough code says police can only be funded through property tax.

The borough is currently violating its code because it pays for a portion of police service with sales tax.

A separate ordinance that would change code to allow other sources to fund service areas was advanced by a 4-2 vote with members Tom Morphet and Sean Maidy voting against it.

Assembly member Heather Lende took issue with the increased cost of police service and complexity of the current ordinance.

“I’m still not clear on what exactly the service will be,” Lende said. “I feel there’s a responsibility to offer people an option of what we can provide but I don’t know if this is too complicated, and if we could simplify it, I think it would be better.”

Lende said she thinks each community outside the townsite should vote on whether or not they want emergency police protection, and if they’d be willing to pay for it with their property taxes.

Assembly member Tom Morphet is against forming a police service area because citizens out the road haven’t expressed the desire to form one.

“I would like to remind my fellow assembly members that there is still state trooper jurisdiction, there is still state trooper service up the highway,” Morphet said regarding the state’s wildlife trooper. “We’re also seven months into this crisis without a trooper and it seems like things are going ok.”

Scott said his department continues to receive calls up the highway, although they’ve recently hit a lull in calls. Police in the past week arrested an individual who accounted for around 51calls for service out the highway during the past year, Scott said.

Scott added if the community votes against expanding police protection, it will continue to be an unfunded requirement. He said it’s time for the community to make a decision.

The assembly voted 3-3 to advance a substitute ordinance with Morphet, and assembly members Sean Maidy and Tresham Gregg opposed. Mayor Jan Hill broke the tie to pass the ordinance that will act as a placeholder for discussion to continue.

A committee of the whole meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, August 1 at 6 p.m. to further discuss the ordinance.

Schnabel said the political, financial and ethical issue of policing outside the townsite might be too complex to get a clear ballot proposition created in time for the Oct. 3 election.

“It’s not simple to sell,” Schnabel said in a separate interview. “Politically it’s difficult because people look at it and throw up their hands because there’s so much movement, so much amendment of the code and change to revenue code and public service area code that has to take place in order to make that happen.”

Schnabel told the assembly if they do not come up with a clear ballot proposition, which needs to happen by Aug. 22, they still need to make a decision relative to the “overriding question of providing police service outside of the townsite.”


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