Rural senator objects to mandatory borough bill

Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Senate Finance Committee members sparred Thursday over a Fairbanks lawmaker's plan to look at organizing rural areas into boroughs.

Boroughs are required to add local money to state dollars going to schools and officials from rural areas say their constituents cannot afford to do so.

''This legislation is going to further divide urban and rural Alaska,'' said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel

Hoffman is a minority member of the committee considering Senate Bill 48, sponsored by Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks.

Wilken said some parts of rural Alaska likely have money to contribute to education. The state needs to validate whether it is right to continue sending millions to those areas without a local match.

''This bill simply asks the question, 'Can you help?''' he said

But the areas that would be affected under the bill, Hoffman said, are mostly Native communities dependent on subsistence. Some people in the communities may own property, he said, but that does not mean they could afford a borough property tax.

''I think they will end up losing their land in foreclosures,'' he said.

The legislation would require the state to annually decide whether any rural areas ought to be organized into new boroughs with taxing authority or annexed into existing boroughs.

The Local Boundary Commission would examine the nominations, hold public hearings, and decide whether to recommend to the Legislature that organization take place. There would be public review of the proposal, but the Legislature would make the decision.

Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, co-chairman of the committee, appointed four senators, including Hoffman and Wilken, to review the bill.

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