Commission's list names possible future boroughs

Posted: Thursday, January 02, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A state commission says there are eight unorganized regions of Alaska whose economies may be strong enough to support local borough governments.

The Local Boundary Commission has released a list of the regions that it says could begin paying for their schools with local taxes.

The list includes the western Aleutian Islands including Dutch Harbor and Adak, the Upper Tanana valley including Delta and Tok, and the Copper River basin including Glennallen and 17 small unincorporated communities. Also on the list is Prince William Sound, where Cordova and Valdez pay city taxes for schools but might combine forces. Four areas in Southeast Alaska also are included.

Areas dropped from further consideration include the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the Seward Peninsula and much of the Yukon River Valley.

The Legislature last year ordered the boundary commission to sift through economic and social factors and develop a list of potential boroughs in rural Alaska where school operations and construction are paid for by the state. Organized boroughs contribute $135 million a year to education, the commission said last year.

''For some areas of the state, the free ride is over,'' said Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, who has pushed unsuccessfully for laws to require forming new boroughs. ''Why should the people who are supporting themselves also support those who are able to do so, but won't?''

The preliminary list released in December by the commission is based on economic data from the 2000 census. The commission looked at household economic factors, such as income and unemployment, rather than at potential property tax bases. A more refined list, weighing additional factors, such as shared characteristics and population, is to be submitted to the Legislature in February.

Alaska is the only state with an unorganized region. Today, 13 percent of Alaskans live outside organized boroughs.

State lawmakers, recognizing that taxpayers seldom vote to create new taxing authorities, created Alaska's urban borough governments through a mandatory act in 1963.

One exception was the Northwest Arctic Borough, created in the Kotzebue region in 1986. Most of the area consists of small rural villages with the same marginal economies as other parts of the Bush. But the large Red Dog zinc and lead mine provided a regional tax base that would have gone untapped without a local borough government.

Opponents of state-imposed boroughs say local taxes would be ruinous in most poor rural parts of Alaska. Backers say affluent households exist even in poor districts and everyone should help pay for schools. They also argue that an organized local government can help promote economic development.

''It's important not only to identify those areas that can help themselves but also to isolate those areas that can't and begin to marshall the state's resources to develop the economy there,'' Wilken told the Anchorage Daily News.

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