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The city of Haines is undergoing sweeping changes with the consolidation of its city and borough governments and an upcoming Oct. 1 election of a mayor, borough assembly and school board.
Haines residents in July voted 658 to 524 in favor of merging the city and borough governments, creating a home-rule borough with areawide planning and zoning authority. The new consolidated government also will create a new school board, relieving the borough assembly of school board duties.
The election has drawn an unusually high number of candidates, said Haines Borough Mayor Jan Hill, who is running for the same position in the new government.
Seventeen candidates are running to fill the six seats on the new assembly. Three of the elections have pitted acting city council members against their borough assembly counterparts.
Likewise, Hill will face off against City Mayor David Black and City Council member Mike Case.
Haines Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Stout said that although Haines has been known for divisive politics because of disagreements between the city and borough governments, the election has been very positive so far.
"I don't think anyone has been running a negative campaign," Stout said.
He said that throughout the campaign season the chamber has hosted candidate forums. Tourism and bed taxes, determining how the new school board will operate, and expansion of a small-boat harbor are among the top issues candidates have addressed in the election, Stout said.
Although the elections have kept mudslinging at a minimum, Ray Menaker, a former assembly member, said many residents are unhappy with the consolidation.
He said the decision by voters to combine the two local governments won by a fairly narrow margin and newly elected officials will need to acknowledge the concerns of those who opposed the decision.
"The original failure of the consolidation (in 1998) was by three votes," Menaker said. "If it were to win by three or by 27 or whatever, you've still got a situation that it's not a mandate."
Many Haines residents living outside the city have voiced opposition to the consolidation out of concern that they would not receive fair representation with candidates being elected at large. The current assembly structure has one at-large member, three members representing city residents and two representing residents living outside the city.
"You have serious differences of opinion, which we can live with," Menaker said. "But you have to realize that if you're in the government that there are people outside (the city) that feel they need representation."
In addition to running for office many of the candidates are involved in work groups that are assigned with the task of consolidating the city and borough governments.
Hill said there does not appear to be much duplication of duties among city employees, but some will have changes made to their job descriptions to accommodate the consolidation.
The city was given $200,000 by the state to complete the work of combining the two entities. Haines City Manager Marco Pignalberi said it would take the full amount to complete the work and much more to consolidate the offices of both governments.
He said the city is considering housing city offices temporarily in the Haines Borough Public Library as soon as a new library under construction is completed this winter.
Pignalberi said he anticipates that the work groups will make their recommendations to the new assembly by mid-October.
Timothy Inklebarger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.