A report released last week by the Local Boundary Commission (LBC) regarding the petition for the City of Petersburg to dissolve and become a borough, includes revised boundary lines, and
recommendations regarding inclusion of residents who live outside city limits.
Petersburg filed a petition with the Alaska State Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development to dissolve the city and for the incorporation of a borough with the Commerce Dept. on April 6, 2011. The Petition was accepted for filing on August 5, 2011, and the LBC began its review.
“They've taken about 406 square miles out of the proposed plan, that includes the Tracy Arm watershed,” said Petersburg City Manager Steve Giesbrecht.
Petersburg's plan calls for the city and borough of Petersburg to cover 4,346 square miles of land and water. The plan runs up to Juneau’s southern city limits, which includes Tracy Arm; an area that Juneau is interested in controlling.
The proposed borough also includes the 27 residents of nearby Kupreanof.
The LBC, which is quasi-executive, quasi-legislative and quasi-judicial in nature, recommend that the southern border follow natural lines and exclude Tracy Arm. They also recommend that the Whiting River, and its watershed be excluded from the proposed borough.
The report states: "...the Tracy Arm watershed area is only open to gillnet and troll gear for targeting salmon according to Board of Fisheries regulations. There is little if any commercial salmon fishing that occurs in Tracy Arm, Endicott Arm, and Holkham Bay because only small numbers of pink salmon are produced from streams in this area.”
The Tracy Arm area and Hobart Bay are also popular tourist spots, the report said.
“Juneau does not have the fishing fleet like we do, but they have a larger tourism business. [These areas] offer potential tourism as well,” Giesbrecht said.
The benefits to Petersburg becoming a borough, outlined in the City's petition, say that for Petersburg residents, becoming a borough would mean having a greater say in Federal and State land decisions in areas outside of Petersburg. Incorporating as a borough voluntarily allows residents to have more control. Plus residents of the region will have a voice in borough-wide issues.
If Petersburg becomes a borough any resident inside the boundary can run for elected office. Borough residents would also have more of a say in what level of services they want and what they are willing to pay for, according to the City's petition.
The LBC reported that the proposed borough does “embrace an area and population with common interests to the maximum degree possible.”
The proposed borough affects not only industry, but the usage of public services as well.
Of the many positive comments the LBC received, a common theme focused on the status of residents who live outside city limits (outliers), but still use some of the city resources.
Some of the outliers say they are opposed to the borough plan, because they prefer an independent, self-sufficient life-style. And they fear taxes for borough residents would go up over time, the report said.
The question arises of whether they would live where they do at all if Petersburg did not exist.
Public services, such as education were addressed in the report.
Of the 486 students attending Petersburg public schools, 20 live outside city limits. And a small increase in the student population is expected next year. For students that are not enrolled in a traditional school, options include home-schooling and correspondence courses.
Students who opt out of traditional schools are not assessed by the city to pay for their education, the LBC said. However, the reported stated: “A well educated population benefits society, but it does cost. Having a well educated society is a common interest of all, even when one's own children do not attend school, or are grown.”
The LBC is accepting public comment from now until 4:30 p.m. Wed., March 28. During the next 30 days, Juneau is expected to file a response, Giesbrecht said.
A public hearing is scheduled for May 30 and 31. After the hearing in May, the matter goes to the voters.