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Tuesday, May 21, 2019
HomeColumnsIs Eagle River ready for a divorce?

Is Eagle River ready for a divorce?

By DONN LISTON
CONTRIBUTOR

While many residents of the Railbelt from Eagle River to Eklutna were enjoying a cold one in their taxed-to-the-max Municipality of Anchorage home on Friday, other locals gathered at Lion’s Park Clubhouse to talk about quality of life — with and without Muni.org.

Happy folks who obviously knew and respected each other were sharing free pizza and water or coffee and talking about Eagle River detaching from the Municipality of Anchorage. Some 400 have already taken an on-line survey to express interest in the topic and they were ready to learn more about Eaglexit.

Kind of like a thinking about a divorce while you can still talk to each other.

Following a Powerpoint presentation by Michael Tavoliero, former Anchorage Assembly member Dan Kendall reported on his experiences dealing with the Muni in various positions regarding a number of issues.

One guest speaker expressed surprise at how many people filled the room.

“When they asked me to talk about the requirements to detach from the Municipality of Anchorage and form your own local government, I thought it might be a handful of people, as is typically the case,” said Edgar Blatchford, a former commissioner of two state departments dealing with local government and economic development.

“Our constitution was written to encourage government decision-making at the level closest to the people so this is an appropriate discussion,” he said. Blatchford teaches at the University of Alaska.

Has the Anchorage Municipality become too unwieldy to address the needs of JBER, Eagle River, Chugiak, Birchwood, Peters Creek, and all points north to Eklutna?

Muni District 2 does not align directly with legislative districts of this area. Rather, those who live in the area elect two Anchorage assembly members through mail-in ballots on an election date that is not aligned with any other government election time. Five other Anchorage election districts also have two people each on the Assembly.

Anchorage School Board members are elected at-large.

District 2 Assemblyman Fred Dyson wasn’t in attendance, but newly elected Assemblywoman Crystal Kennedy was.

Organizers who have put time and some personal resources into the Eaglexit effort are Michael Tavoliero, Matthew Hickey, Gordon Banfield, Thomas Williams, Wayne DeVore, Benjamin Westveer, and Kimberly Collins. They say the pump has been primed and now they need to know if we need a garden hose or a fire hose.

According to the organizers, the District 2 population is approximately 50,000. By detaching from the Municipality of Anchorage, District 2 would become the second most populous municipality in Alaska. The City of Fairbanks, for comparison, has 35,000 people.

These are local people who want more say in local government decisions impacting their own neighborhoods. Their mission is to discover the social, political, and financial costs associated with the development of a municipality (city or borough). Anyone who ever thought they might like to become active in politics could learn a lot by getting involved.

Is this feasible? Didn’t Eagle River pull out of the Muni before and was it not sent back into it tail-between-its-legs by a judge? Who will pay for this new effort?

A 2007 Anchorage commissioned study of detaching this part of Anchorage found that the MOA will experience little to no significant economic hardship as a result of detachment and that there may even be a reduction in costs for the Muni. This is because some budget categories for 300,000 people will likely not be shared with a municipality of 50,000.

This region has some resources the Muni.org depends on, too. The Eklutna Lake water reservoir, the landfill, Chugach State Park access, a prison, and a variety of amenities people in Anchorage visit.

Here are the detachment talking points as described in a white paper written by the Eaglexit board:

“Smaller is Better,” an Eaglexit would:

  • Provide improved local involvement and control of land-use.
  • Maintain and operate a smaller and more accountable school district.
  • Allow for a locally controlled public safety sector.
  • Protect community tax base through a smaller taxing district and greater local community involvement in tax decisions.
  • Limit government to local constituency enabling home-grown representation of the people and creating collaboration between citizens and elected officials.
  • Mitigate over-zoning, excessive fees, high density housing, parking, traffic and unnecessary services.
  • Simplify the permitting process.
  • Eliminate unnecessary taxes.
  • Attract small business.
  • Promote a general scaling back of nonessential government functions.
  • Establish shared interest between business interests based on common philosophies toward matters such as low taxes, fewer regulations and expanding economic growth.
  • Produce an effective and responsive small municipal government.

How many checkmarks can residents of this area put on that list?

This isn’t about that tired and trite idea of “starting a conversation.” This is about people who have had enough, and are ready to take action to address a dysfunctional relationship.

Tavoliero estimates it will cost a million dollars, and require a lot of involvement by people who live in this region, because the best part of living here is it isn’t really Anchorage.

Donn Liston has lived in Alaska since 1962 and in Eagle River since 2010. He was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News during pipeline construction and is a retired teacher. He was named a BP Teacher of Excellence in 2013.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • Good article. I’m ready to move out of ER because of the big city issues. I’ll rethink that now, would love to reverse the over taxation, under representation. I recall my father and his friends sitting around the table in the 70’s and grousing about the MOA. He was very disappointed when the supreme court ruled against ER going off on its own. It took me a few decades, but I know understand why……

  • You seem to have started a Pros & Cons list but left off the Cons there has got to be many.

    Where will the 1 million come from?
    Send me a link to the GoFund Me site, I’ll put a couple bucks towards the effort.

    • Go to eaglexit.com to donate. Thank you

  • I would like to see a pro and con/beauty contest between 1) MOA remain 2) standalone and 3) joining the Matsu Borough (that is, if they would consider having us). ER is already in the MSB service area for electricity and telco. We certainly have a lot in common philosophically with the MSB. Their mill rate is ~13.46 v. our ~16 and MSB zoning is more compatible with who we are. Not sure about K-12 and police/fire but latter might pencil if for no other reason than how much MOA is now spending on the zombie crisis, which I assume isn’t a big factor in the MSB.

    • “MSB service area for electricity and telco” is misleading. I’ve not read too much about the circumstances 70 years ago which led to the establishment of various Rural Electrification Administration cooperatives in Alaska. I do know that for many years, driving between Anchorage and Eagle River meant going through the military base and passing checkpoints on either end. Factors related to the military presence in between those places could have played a role in MEA/MTA picking up that slack instead of Chugach and Anchorage Telephone Utility. ATU’s service area extended to Hope, yet it was still a long-distance call between the two places, while it was a local call between Anchorage and Chugiak/Eagle River. In the days of landlines ruling the roost, it was for that very reason that MTA’s customers in Chugiak and Eagle River paid some of the highest phone rates in the entire state. As for drugged-out zombies, I think it can be safely said that they also exist in the Valley. Perhaps they’re doing better than the ones in Anchorage and therefore aren’t as visible because they don’t have to pitch tents on the street or in parks. I remember being told countless times that KGB Road didn’t stand for “Knik-Goose Bay”, it stood for “Killer Green Bud”.

      • Anchorage is a mess and because it’s run by Democrats, primarily for the benefit of Democrats, they mainly want to use as much money as possible to hire more Democrats who will vote for Democrats. That’s never goona change. It will only get worse.

        Conservatives are also capable of messing things up. I just want as many options as possible and to be able to make an informed choice on the key variables, which seem to me are the cost and quality of k-12, police & fire, road maintenance and construction as well as the difficulty of doing business and improving private property. Is that MSB, MOA or the Kingdom of ER – and why?

  • Please go to eaglexit.com to donate and for more information.

  • Two things to dissect. First, the statement “Five other Anchorage election districts also have two people each on the Assembly”. That is incorrect, as one district only elects one member. That district was centered around Eagle River and Chugiak for the first decade of the Municipality’s existence before being switched to the area around downtown Anchorage, where it has remained ever since. Following the 2020 Census, the Assembly will be tasked with revisiting their apportionment scheme. The current member from the single-member district, Christopher Constant, was very involved with that issue during February and March. He floated a number of different proposals: shifting the single-member district among different regions of the municipality every decade, changing the Assembly to single-member districts, and even expanding the Assembly to twelve members and giving the mayor some sort of vote on the body to alleviate potential problems with tie votes. I’m sure that many folks feel that with the current setup, the mayor already has nine of the eleven votes on the Assembly. I came across a reference guide to Spenard published by then-Rep. Joe McKinnon as part of his first reelection campaign in 1976. It stated that the Assembly member from the single-member district served a two-year term. I don’t recall hearing any reason for why that was abandoned.
    .
    The second thing is “By detaching from the Municipality of Anchorage, District 2 would become the second most populous municipality in Alaska”. Various reference materials on local government found on the state website, with Local Government in Alaska at https://www.commerce.alaska.gov/web/portals/4/pub/LocalGovernmentinAlaska032004.pdf being just one example, assert that the term “municipality” refers to both boroughs and cities and that unified municipalities, which includes Anchorage, are boroughs, not cities. In practical terms, Anchorage should be thought of as a city, even if it isn’t legally constituted as such. Still, the FNSB and MSB (and possibly even KPB) are more populous municipalities than this would be. Misunderstanding of these terms and their applicability appears to be widespread.

  • The Feasibilty Study will be huge in determining which way C-ER goes, but the current sentiment is running high in favor of getting out. It should be up to the Residents of this area. Our efforts to get separate regs in Title 21 for our area were shot down. Separation is an appropriate response. Getting there will not be easy though. The Community Councils in our area provide an existing mechanism to leverage this kind of activity. I recommend that Eaglexit work with the Community Councils, legislators, and Assembly Reps from our area.

  • But where would all the Valley living APD cops park if Eklutna wasn’t part of Anchorage?

  • This would be great. We could save a ton on policing if we join the mat-su borough. The Troopers could just do that for us for free!

  • I am for at least strongly considering it. We pay high taxes are dead last in line for services (fire, police, snow plow). If you look at the plow out plan, ER & Chugiak don’t even rate a mention. ASD is so terribly mismanaged – it’s hard to think that ER & Chugiak couldn’t do it more efficiently. We get so few police – Eagle River Community Patrol has to take up the slack. I’m sure it’s not a simple process, but it’s definitely worth a good hard look. Not to mention that ANC does not represent the values of most people who chose to call ER, Birchwood, JBER or Chugiak home – we are far more conservative than most ANC residents.

    • Plowing here is not mentioned in the Anchorage plowing schedule because we have our own Rural Road Service District which is paid for by an assessment on real property in Chugiak eagle River.

      The same is true for Parks and Recreation in this area

      I believe certain main roads here are maintained by the State, and we pay no State taxes so we can’t complain about their maintenance. The ones I am aware of are Old Glenn Eagle River Road Eagle River Lp and Birchwood Lp

      If you rent, you are paying those taxes too you just don’t see the tax bill, your landlord does.

      To avoid future disappointments in these discussions, find out more about the governance and history of your community.

      • Thanks for educating me on the plow situation, but there are a number of other considerations like police, fire and school that merit a full and fair discussion. I am a home owner and a member of this community and while I don’t know everything – I am engaged in my community and I try not to condescend to people who are engaged in a discussion about avenues to better it. You should try it. Unless we can talk to each other and share information – we are destined to talk past each other and that serves no one.

  • I would reach out to some old-timers who have knowledge on the subject, as it has been seriously discussed more than 3 times over the past 40 years.. Unfortunately, some like Lee Jordan are gone but there are still a few around. They know what the pitfalls were before and may shed some light to help make this happen. Several articles in the Alaska(Eagle River) Star.

  • I would consider moving back to Alaska, IF there were a separation from Anchorage. Political philosophies are miles apart between the two towns/city. Not that ER-C is trouble-free, it’s time the conservatives had a place in the basin to sink, or swim. I think Er-C would do quite well on its own. In Chugiak you know your neighbors, in Anchorage, not so much……

  • Lived here for 29 years and think separation would work and solve a lot of the problems my neighbors voice opinions about

  • I find it troubling that the organizers of this initiative seem to be quoting very much out of context. The quoted research done by Northern Economics, Inc. for the State of Alaska in 2007 looked at the effects of a possible Eagle River detachment. The research unequivocally concluded even if Eagle River taxes went up that school funding levels would have to go down for the Eagle River area while Anchorage would not feel any effect and Anchorage might actually see their property taxes slightly decline. The study also says that “This picture darkens further …” if other Eagle River needs are considered. Unless the Eagle River tax base has changed very significantly and costs have not increased since 2007 new research does not seem to be warranted. The organizers of the present initiative seem to initially have tried to make an apples vs oranges argument but my read of the research does not lend support to such a stance. As a separate issue, the Alaska State Constitution does not appear to allow detachment in this type of situation. If one reads about Article 10 in 2018 Citizens Guide to the Alaska State Constitution it will be clearly seen that the State Constitution was drafted to specifically avoid this type of detachment. In their initial writings the organizers of this initiative have only quoted a small excerpt of Article 10 Section One which partial quote as presented seems disingenuous to me. A short read of the DCCED’s Local Boundry Commission handbook section titled City Detachment In Alaska makes it clear that the present detachment initiative does not appear to be constitutional under the State constitution. Based upon what is written in the handbook it does not seem that any Eagle River detachment petition work would even make it past any initial consideration by the DCCED’s Local Boundry Council. Also, Elmendorf (JBER?) is annexed by Anchorage which seems to present different hurdles and many residents of the Chugiak/Peters Creek/Eklutna area would prefer to be separate even from Eagle River if possible (Chugiak maintains its own own volunteer fire department).
    (Note: DCCED is the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development who under State law is tasked with such matters).

    • I couldn’t find the LBC handbook you referred to online. Perhaps I’ll look for it elsewhere. It should be pointed out that Port Alexander was originally included in the City and Borough of Sitka, then detached and rejoined the Unorganized Borough about two years later (necessitating reincorporation). So there is a precedent, despite a huge difference in population and perhaps other differences.

  • WHOA, Donn! Slow down a second…
    .
    Surely you’re not leaving without your friends in South Anchorage who’re beyond bloody sick of the same, useless, overpriced, dysfunctional, parasitic patrody that passes for a government-education cartel…
    .
    Tell us where to get tickets for this train and let’s get this thing started!
    .
    Note: You want the State to sponsor any balloting on this issue. You do not want to trust something so important to a city mail-in vote system that’s wide open to ballot harvesting and post-ballot “corrections”.
    .
    Good luck, Donn. Need help or money, let us know where to send both…

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