A couple weeks ago, a question establishing an expanded police service area seemed headed to the October ballot. But now, the Haines Assembly may decide to hit the brakes. Leaders say they don’t want to rush major changes to police boundaries.
Haines is still struggling to find a path forward following the closure of the local Alaska State Trooper post.
Previously, the trooper patrolled and handled emergencies outside of the townsite. Now there is only a wildlife trooper who is in Haines sporadically. The local police have felt obligated to respond to emergency calls outside their usual jurisdiction.
“I’m very perplexed that such a simple issue — emergency police coverage outside the townsite, if wanted — morphed into such a complex discussion,” said Cindy Jones, with the Haines Volunteer Fire Department.
She was skeptical of a proposed new ‘community safety’ service area. It would take care of police protection outside the townsite. But it would also incorporate ambulance service and some dispatch.
Jones and fire chief Brian Clay were alarmed that the current medical service model, which they say works fine, might be absorbed by the new community safety area.
“Our recommendation is that you step back to carefully consider what you are proposing and not approve the ordinance to place on the October ballot,” Jones said. “This is not an emergency.”
Borough manager Debra Schnabel also said the assembly might want to slow the process down.
“This issue is the first attempt since consolidation to bring divergent philosophies into a political unit,” Schnabel read from a prepared statement. “It will require a lot of work and leadership. I recommend that the assembly do all it can to advance the discussion and education to make sure that whenever voters go to the polls, they are informed voters.”
One topic of debate is funding. Schnabel and police chief Heath Scott have said a ballot question might have a better chance of passing if it doesn’t involve property tax increases.
But Jones pointed out that townsite residents pay for police in their property taxes. She said, the same should hold true if police service is expanded areawide.
A service area funded partially by sales tax might also have an uphill battle on the assembly. Two members, Tom Morphet and Sean Maidy, voted against a code change that would allow Haines service areas to be funded by non-property tax sources.
Schnabel said the assembly should schedule a committee meeting to spend more time on the police service area question.
The assembly agreed, and set a meeting for Monday, July 31.
After that discussion, it might be more evident whether a police ballot question will make it to voters this fall.