A minor offenses ordinance that dictates fines for hundreds of low-level violations has alarmed some Haines residents and elected officials.
The ordinance is a compilation of all the existing minor infractions scattered throughout Haines Borough code. It’s the borough’s attempt to create a consistent enforcement and appeals process for violations that don’t rise to the level of misdemeanors. But the 35-page document has brought attention to a slew of regulations that some residents see as excessive.
The draft ordinance has a 14-page fee schedule for the low-level violations already prohibited in borough code. Here are just a few: Sign violation: $100, barking or howling dog: $50, offending public decency: $300, cutting timber that is not already dead or downed $300, sleeping or loitering on a highway $25.
“I think this is going to pit neighbors against neighbors,” said resident Gina St. Clair. “Everything about it is so negative.”
“I have always wanted to believe I was living in a community that had more positive reinforcement than a community that had a lot of regulation or ‘thou shalt nots,'” said Debra Schnabel.
“Since 1910 we’ve passed an awful lot of laws,” said Bill Kurz. “It’s commonly known as creep, when you’re talking about the loss of your freedom. It’s just a little bit here, a little bit there and now we’ve got this big long list.”
Those residents spoke at the Government Affairs and Services committee meeting Monday night. That committee of four borough assembly members was tasked with deciding what to do with the contentious ordinance.
Committee member Diana Lapham pointed out that all of the offenses are already in borough code. She proposed passing the ordinance and then paring it down.
“It’s not a big deal to pass this with fines in there that you think, and I think, and everybody else thinks are ridiculous,” Lapham said.
Committee member George Campbell didn’t agree.
“We have inherited codes that are inappropriate, poorly done, done in a hurry, passed imperfectly, and this has come from that,” Campbell said. “We need to take the bull by the horns and go, ‘we don’t like these codes and we need to change the codes to make it appropriate for what citizens want.'”
Some members of the public also urged the committee not to pass the ordinance until it’s trimmed of unnecessary regulations. Brenda Josephson said the long list of minor offenses contradicts the rights promised in the Haines Borough Charter.
“The charter guarantees to the people of Haines borough the following rights: ‘the right to enjoyment of private property, chosen lifestyles, traditions, employment, recreational activities without unnecessarily restrictive or arbitrary laws or restrictions,'” Josephson said.
Haines Borough Attorney Patrick Munson is the lawyer who compiled the ordinance. He says it streamlines the enforcement and appeals procedures for low-level infractions. Right now, Munson said, there is ‘very little direction’ in borough code about the citation and appeals processes for a range of violations.
Munson said his law firm has drafted similar minor offenses ordinances for Dillingham and Nome. Resident Schnabel asked Munson if those towns had violation lists as long as Haines’. He said “no.”
“This is pretty significantly the longest one we’ve had and we knew that going into it because Haines has more regulations than Dillingham and Nome, for example,” Munson said. “But you have different interests, you don’t need a heliski chapter or commercial tour permit in Nome, Alaska. But Haines does. So you have a lot more ordinances that generate violations that it makes sense to treat as minor offenses that other communities don’t have.”
Munson said there was no looming deadline for the assembly to pass the ordinance. The GAS committee decided to schedule a series of meetings to go through the minor offenses by category and cut out gratuitous regulations.
The first meeting will focus on harbor-related violations. It’s scheduled for August 4th at 6:30 p.m.