Consolidation committee eliminates option for a second-class, consolidated borough government

The Consolidation Committee took an incremental step forward on Monday night’s meeting, voting unanimously to strike the option of a consolidated second-class borough government from the list of potential outcomes.

In the State of Alaska, a second-class borough government is different from either a first-class or home rule borough in that it has fewer powers. And to exercise the powers it does have, a second-class borough government often has to get voter approval.

Currently the city of Kodiak operates as home rule government, meaning it has its own charter dictating its powers. The Kodiak Island Borough is a second-class borough.

The City of Kodiak sign at the Kodiak Island Borough Building. (Photo by Kavitha George/KMXT)

“I think it gives a lesser amount of governance, local governance,” city councilmember Terry Haines said after the meeting. “And our state constitution requires we have the maximum amount of local governance. And since the city is already a home rule city, to go back to a second-class borough might not even be possible.”

Haines, who represents the city on the committee, pointed out that recommendations from the 1989 Kodiak consolidation report also eliminated the option of a consolidated second-class borough.

Consolidation means that the current city and borough governments would essentially be dissolved, and a new borough government would be formed to govern the entire archipelago. And with that comes the complicated undertaking of figuring out how to merge government departments, reconfigure service districts and set taxes. The next step in the process is determining what form that new borough government would take — first-class or home rule.

A home rule government requires the formation of a separate charter commission to draft what would essentially be Kodiak’s own constitution that would outline the new government’s powers. The committee estimated that the charter process could take upwards of a year.

A first-class government would have more power than a second-class government. It wouldn’t be as powerful as home rule, but it would be a lot less time consuming to set up because it wouldn’t require a charter.

One option that Borough Manager Michael Powers suggested looking into was consolidating as a first-class government first, and then applying to become a home rule borough.

“We’re going to look again, dive deeper into the materials that we have, and look into what different kinds of municipalities would mean,” Haines said. “What the different rules would mean for our citizens. A lot of it does come down to how you’re taxed [and] who can vote for what you’re taxed for. And then how the new borough would be provide services.”

The committee is comprised of city and borough representatives, Port Lions’ mayor Dorinda Kewan, representing the villages, and several “at-large” community members. The stated purpose of the committee is to provide a plan and timeline for possible consolidation, and potentially to draft a petition for the new consolidated borough for submission to the state Local Boundaries Commission.

Monday was just the second meeting of the Consolidation Committee, formed following a 2016 ballot question asking voters whether they thought consolidation was worth another shot. At that time 1235 people voted in favor, and 919 voted against.

Apprehensions about embarking on an estimated three-year process appear well-deserved, given that Kodiak has looked into it before. Other consolidations like Yaktuat’s successful merge and Ketchikan’s failed one are serving as road maps and cautionary tales as the committee progresses..

“This is exciting,” Paul VanDyke, one of the at-large members commented at the end of the meeting. “This is a lot of work, though.”

The next meeting will be on Oct. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the Borough Conference Room.

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