Skagway is ready to form its own borough to avoid becoming part of Haines.
Petitions to dissolve the 100-year-old city government and become a borough instead are gathering signatures at the Skagway city hall and library. Already, more than 50 Skagway residents signed the petition, which needed a minimum of 44 signatures, said Skagway City Clerk Marj Harris.
The government switch would change nothing but the name, said Skagway Mayor John Mielke, who supports it as a way to avoid being annexed by the nearby Haines Borough.
City leaders are also tired of the Legislature lumping Skagway with other communities outside organized boroughs that do not pay local matching funds for their schools. Skagway does pay a percent of school costs, said Skagway City Manager Bob Ward.
The state's Local Boundary Commission must approve the petition before the issue can go to a vote.
The state Department of Community and Economic Development found numerous problems with a draft of the petition it reviewed last fall. The department is worried about the precedent set if Skagway becomes its own borough, said Dan Bockhorst, who works for the department and the Local Boundary Commission. Boroughs are meant to consolidate local government by encompassing several communities and more than 1,000 people, Bockhorst said. About 800 people live in Skagway.
The transition could also cost the state $600,000 in grants and possibly even more in land.
Mayor Mielke realizes the boundary commission is unlikely to approve Skagway's change to a borough government, since the state's Model Borough Boundaries Act drawn several years ago places Skagway in the Haines Borough. But he notes Yakutat recently formed a borough with only one community and fewer than 1,000 residents.
Yakutat is more isolated than Skagway, said Bockhorst, and allowing Skagway to go ahead could open the way for a Pandora's box of other towns that have shown an interest in becoming their own boroughs, including Pelican and Girdwood.
Currently Skagway is one of 96 cities not in an organized borough. The boundary commission has been trying to get those cities annexed into boroughs, something Mielke and the rest of the Skagway City Council are trying to avoid.
``There's enough differences between the two communities that would warrant keeping them separate in their two boroughs,'' Mielke said. ``Even though we're 14 miles apart, we're more miles apart in terms of diversity of community.''
The Haines Borough Assembly hasn't taken a position on whether it would rather annex Skagway or let it form its own borough. The issue may be discussed more in the fall, when people aren't as busy, said Terry Pardee, a member of the Haines Borough Assembly.
``There's greater strength in unity I believe,'' Pardee said, ``rather than divisiveness.''