House passes bill to allow cities by other names

Posted: Tuesday, February 20, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Villages in the Bush could choose a new form of local government under a bill passed Monday by the House.

House Bill 16 allows the creation of ''home rule communities,'' which would provide much of the flexibility of home rule municipalities without some costly requirements that discourage formal local government in the state's unorganized areas, said Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, the measure's sponsor.

The communities would be much like existing second-class cities, except that residents could adopt a customized charter instead of accepting the rules for cities laid out in state law.

The measure would allow communities to ''evolve a form of government that's very comfortable to them, to their history and culture,'' said Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River. The bill passed 33-1. A similar bill also passed the House by a wide margin last year, but died in the Senate.

Dyson said he wants to give communities incentive to take responsibility for providing services now administered by the state. For instance, the community could opt to provide police and fire protection, while leaving transportation to the state. An organized government would also provide a conduit for state and federal aid, he said.

''I believe there is no downside, it is totally a local option,'' Dyson said.

Dyson said he hopes the flexibility of a charter will prove attractive to Alaska Native villages seeking to incorporate elements of tribal government into local government.

Rep. Scott Ogan, R-Palmer, objected to the flexible naming provision, noting that the Alaska Constitution allows the state to delegate powers only to boroughs and cities.

''Was their discussion from any of the state's attorneys?'' asked Ogan, who cast the only vote against the bill.

''A city by any other name is still a city under the bill,'' Dyson replied.

Under current law, only boroughs and first-class cities can adopt home rule charters. Both forms of government bear costly responsibilities under state law. The largest obligation is to form a school district and bear part of the costs of education. Outside of such municipalities, the state pays nearly all the cost of education, providing a strong incentive against forming local governments.

Under Dyson's bill, many of the differences between home rule communities and second class cities would be cosmetic. For instance, the home rule community could call itself something different, such as a village, and its council could refer to itself as a village council instead of a city council.

But limitations imposed on second-class cities would still apply. Home rule communities could not form their own school districts or charge property taxes of more than 20 mills.

Like second-class cities, home rule communities could also opt out of costly public services such as planning and land-use regulation.

Dyson's bill now goes to the Senate, where it ran into problems in the Finance Committee last year. Many in the Senate's Republican majority support the formation of boroughs in the unorganized areas so local residents can be taxed to help pay for their schools.

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