Commission recommends incentives to organize Alaska

Posted: Thursday, January 27, 2005

FAIRBANKS - A commission that reviews local government issues is again recommending to the Legislature that more boroughs be formed in Alaska to help pay for schools and other services.

The Alaska Local Boundary Commission this week issued its annual report. The report says rather than forcing areas to organize into boroughs, or taking the current approach of waiting for areas to do so voluntarily, incentives should be provided.

The report concludes that offering incentives like financial support could ultimately be more successful than the mandatory approach tried in the past.

"I see it more as the carrot approach, rather than the stick approach to an extent," said Sen. Gary Wilken, an adamant proponent of borough formation.

About 57 percent of the state's land mass is not included in an organized borough, according to the commission.

Wilken, R-Fairbanks, has sponsored unsuccessful legislation in the past to force areas to become boroughs, arguing that unorganized areas in the state should pay their share through local taxes for services such as education.

Residents of unorganized areas have traditionally been opposed to becoming boroughs, especially if they are forced to do so.

Last legislative session, a bill by Wilken to force the formation of four new boroughs drew criticism from many of the affected residents, who argued primarily that they don't want and can't afford another layer of government.

The bill passed the Senate 11-9 but was held up in the House of Representatives committee process.

Wilken said he plans to introduce another borough bill later this session and that he is willing to consider including some of the incentives proposed by the boundary commission.

Both Wilken and boundary commission chairman Darroll Hargraves noted that not all of the group's suggestions amount to incentives in the traditional sense of the word.

"Some of them are sticks as well as carrots," Hargraves said.

One idea, for example, is to impose a tax on unorganized areas equal to the education-funding requirements imposed on boroughs. The levy would eliminate the incentive for the areas to stay unorganized so they don't have to pony up for education, Hargraves said.

The boundary commission proposal calls for a property, wage, head or sales tax in the unorganized area.

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