Assembly again will consider expanded police service area
July 11, 2019
Policing outside of the townsite could be on the October ballot once again, one year after Mud Bay, Lutak and Haines Highway voters rejected raising property taxes to create a separate police service area in their neighborhoods.
On July 8, the borough’s Public Safety Commission voted 2-1 to recommend the assembly introduce an ordinance that would add police service areawide to the October general election ballot. The commission’s agenda item was introduced by assembly members Sean Maidy.
In October 2018, 68 percent of voters in three areas rejected a property tax increase to pay for police services, causing the borough assembly to restrict the Haines Police to the townsite. The assembly unanimously reversed its directive one month later, after a truck overturned at 22 Mile, trapping two residents inside.
The police now respond only to emergency calls from outside the townsite, as they have done since the state troopers pulled out of Haines in 2017.
Since October 2018, there have been 243 calls for police service from Haines Highway, Lutak, Mud Bay and Klukwan, according to police data. Ninety percent of all calls in the past nine months have been from within the townsite.
The directive to respond to some calls outside the townsite contradicts the borough’s charter, which designates police as funded to operate only within the townsite.
On Monday, police chief Heath Scott said there is “far too much risk” for police to continue operating outside of the charter, with no additional funding.
Public safety commissioners Greg Podsiki and Judy Erekson were in favor of trying again for the tax ordinance. They said something “needs to be done” to address the conflict with the charter. Commissioner Paul Rogers said voters have already spoken, and “said no in a resounding way.”
“It wasn’t a close vote, it was a significant vote,” Rogers said. Voters defeated the proposition 185-93. “I’m not going to support this, because I think it goes against the people that made a statement. If you’re going to push it again, you better be ready for the outcry for the people who feel they aren’t being represented at all, that think they’re being ignored.”
Maidy said his intent of bringing the issue forward again wasn’t to disregard the vote, but to work with it.
“I want the intent of this charter change to be the Haines Borough agreeing that policing is important and we want to take care of each other as a community, so we’re all going to pay a little bit of taxes so we have police services wherever we go,” he said.
Borough manager Debra Schnabel said she thought last year’s vote to raise property taxes to pay for police services failed because it contradicted many residents’ beliefs that their contribution to the 1 percent sales tax paid for policing.
Maidy thought the most common reason was residents’ belief the Haines would regain a state trooper, and “why pay for something we’re eventually going to get for free.”
Rogers disagreed with Maidy.
“I don’t think whether the state police come back or not is the issue for most of these people,” he said. “I think it’s a trust issue with the borough. I think it’s a taxation issue with the borough. I think it’s the perception of misuse of borough power and authority over citizens.”
Assembly members Brenda Josephson and Tom Morphet told the CVN they were opposed to reintroducing areawide policing.
“I think it would be redundant,” Morphet said. “Less than a year ago, the voters rejected this.”
Assembly member Will Prisciandaro said he’s in favor of areawide policing going to voters without a funding mechanism attached. “I’d like to see it not linked to a mill rate increase,” he said.
The commission’s recommendation will be referred to the assembly July 18 at 6:30 p.m. in assembly chambers.