The Haines Borough Assembly has until July 18 to draft ballot questions for the municipal election this October. On Monday, the public safety commission recommended the assembly include a proposal to extend police service across the entire borough.
Police service outside the townsite has been a contentious issue since the state removed its only trooper from the borough 2 years ago.
According to the town charter, police departments in Haines can only operate within a designated service area. Right now the only police service area that exists in Haines lies within the boundaries of the townsite. Haines Borough Police Chief Heath Scott says that when his department responds to calls out the Haines Highway, Lutak Road or Mud Bay Road, they are violating the town charter.
“I think we have to address our department operating outside of our charter. I’m not sure where we go from here, but I think it is far too much risk for our organization,” Scott said.
Last year Haines residents living outside the townsite rejected a ballot initiative to create their own police service areas funded by property taxes.
Paul Rogers is a retired 911 director serving on the public safety commission. He lives outside the townsite and helped draft last year’s proposal. He even voted for it.
“But I think the people were unhappy,” Rogers said. “They really felt like it was being pushed down their throats. They felt like they weren’t being given an option. The vast majority of the people wanted nothing to do with the expansion of the police service outside the townsite.”
Now assemblymen Sean Maidy and Will Prisiciandaro want to ask voters if the town charter should be amended to make police service a borough-wide power. This would eliminate the need to develop separate service areas for the police department.
During the last municipal election, only voters living outside the townsite weighed in on the police service question. At the public safety commission meeting Monday, Maidy said this time the entire borough would have the opportunity to vote on the proposal.
“We’re one borough. We should have essential services throughout the entire borough. We should be able to without breaking our own law. I think that having it go to a vote of the people, a fair vote of everyone who would be affected by this vote, is just the right thing to do,” Maidy said.
Public Safety Commission members Greg Podsiki and Judy Erekson supported the proposal.
Erekson said she wanted to allow police to respond to calls outside of town without violating the town charter. Podsiki added that people living in town might want police service available to them while spending time outside the townsite.
Paul Rogers voted against recommending the proposal to the assembly. He thinks that this initiative is likely to face the same resistance from voters living outside the townsite.
“Now, putting it back into a borough-wide vote puts them right back in the position where they feel like this is being shoved down their throats, and so I think that that’s going to be the issue that’s going to be behind the opposition that they’re going to find,” Rogers said.
Borough Manager Debra Schnabel pointed out that it would be difficult to serve people living in remote areas of the borough such as Excursion Inlet.
“The question would be, do we want to knowingly take on the cost of service if it involves boating or airplane,” Schnabel said.
The Haines Borough Assembly will discuss the proposal to extend police service borough-wide at its next meeting on July 18.