Information, though not the kind Jack Brown and other incorporation enthusiasts were looking for, was brought to Thursday's meeting by Gene Kane, local government specialist with Alaska's Department of Community and Economic Development.
Kane said Nikiski's previous incorporation attempt stumbled over the size of the proposed area. He cautioned the same future awaits the current proposal, which follows Nikiski Fire Service Area boundaries.
According to Jeff Sinz, borough finance director, who also attended the Thursday meeting, the size of the service area is 5,479 square miles. Cook Inlet accounts for 1,141 square miles, and 3,856 square miles are on the west of side of Cook Inlet. Another 482 square miles are east of Cook Inlet. Kane said the average size of Alaska's 146 cities is 27.1 square miles.
"Fundamentally, a city is a community government; a borough is a regional government," Kane said. "Standards for boroughs in terms of boundaries are very different than cities. A city has boundaries based on municipal services it would provide. Typically, this would be in a compact area. The service area within a borough is the tool for dealing with things on a larger scale."
Kane said he spoke with Brown prior to Thursday.
"I told him (the Department of Community and Economic Development) has concerns relating to extensive boundaries of the proposed city. He dismissed those concerns as 'bureaucratic bull----,'" said Kane, reading from his notes on the conversation. "I was up front. I didn't want to surprise anybody. I said I wanted him to understand what I was going to tell people so I didn't catch him unawares."
Enter Blaine Gilman, an attorney invited by Brown to help cut through the bureaucracy. Payment for Gilman's services depends on the outcome of the incorporation effort.
"I'm pretty much doing it on my own right now," said Gilman.
If unsuccessful, there'll be no bill forthcoming.
"If it's successful, I'll submit a bill, but that may not be up to Jack (Brown) to determine whether it gets paid or not," Gilman said. "That would be up to the new administration of the city of Nikiski."
An alternative route to incorporation being considered by Gilman is through the Legislature.
"A petition for incorporation doesn't necessarily have to be generated through 15 percent of the voters in the area," he said. "The legislature can sponsor it as well. I'm not sure that has ever been done, but it's allowed by statute. That may be a better approach here because there are some problems."
Gilman said boundary issues raised by Kane also raised other issues.
"If you can't extend the city's boundaries out toward the same boundaries as the fire service area, you automatically will cause a conflict within the borough because any incorporation of the city of Nikiski would include the major fire station in their downtown district," Gilman said. "One of the things you have to do if you incorporate is integrate the service area.
"How could you integrate that fire service area because you'd be splitting it? You have to retain the assets, so automatically you're put into conflict with the borough if they won't allow the boundaries to be extended that far.
"And so what may have to happen is legislation to allow boundaries to be like that."
According to Dan Bockhorst of the state's Local Boundary Commission, boundary issues are centered in the Alaska Constitution.
"City governments are community based. Organized boroughs are regional entities that embrace large unpopulated entities," Bockhorst said. "The rub comes here in that the expansive boundaries being contemplated tend to blur the distinction between city and borough.
However, Gilman didn't agree that changing the law would blur the city and borough distinction.
"It sure doesn't seem like they are encouraging people to incorporate cities," he said, citing information prepared by the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs, which read, in part, that delegates at Alaska's constitutional convention "considered a borough government without cities to be the optimum form of local government."
"The only reason I can think they would give that type of information would be that they're trying to sway the people of Nikiski from incorporating," Gilman said. "They gave a pretty clear indication that the boundaries being proposed wouldn't be accepted. So, we have to figure out how to get around that."
The deciding point will be the effect of incorporation on the home folks.
"Jack (Brown) said that the numbers have to work out," Gilman said. "Does incorporation increase taxes for the residents of Nikiski? If it does, then it probably won't fly. If it keeps them at about the same tax rate, then they may very well want to do something like this because they'll have more local control. Or the additional services they may gain -- police services and other typical services cities deliver -- may be worth it to them to increase the mill rate. That's the type of analysis that has to be done, and it hasn't been done yet."
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