Prince of Wales Island is moving forward with a borough formation study, the first step toward creating what could be Alaska’s newest borough.
The Prince of Wales Island Community Advisory Council has hired Juneau-based Sheinberg Associates to study the pros and cons of forming a new borough.
The study cost is just shy of $30,000, which is the council’s project budget. Council member and Craig City Manager Jon Bolling said the study should be done by next April.
“We’re still looking at a draft report ready by Jan. 15th, three trips by the contractor here over the course of the work to meet with people on the island, and having a final product complete by April 22nd,” he said.
The proposal calls for three phases. The first is the project kick-off, which likely will happen later this month with a public meeting between the advisory council and Sheinberg.
The second phase involves research, and will last through December. According to the proposal, Sheinberg staff will gather financial data from the island’s communities and schools; from the state Departments of Education, Natural Resources, and Fish and Game; and from the U.S. Forest Service.
The research will be used to determine whether POW schools would gain or lose revenue through borough formation; and how much state land a new borough could select.
Bolling said the schools issue will be of great interest to many island residents, in part because it would mean a single school district. POW now has individual districts in its larger communities, with the Southeast Island School District serving smaller villages.
“Certainly the effect on the school districts here of forming a borough will be a central question to the whole process,” he said. “It will describe the effects to the school districts if a borough is formed on Prince of Wales, and because that’s such an important issue to some folks, we want time spent on that and the contractor is prepared to so.”
The firm also will develop conceptual budgets for the new borough, and will look at options for how to apportion representation on a new borough assembly. The potential effects of borough formation on area tribes also will be part of the study.
The third phase will include a draft report, presented Jan. 22nd to the advisory committee. The committee will have about two months to consider the draft report, before sending it back to Sheinberg with comments. A final report is due by April 22nd.
Bolling said public input will be a central part of the process.
“We’ll have public notices out so people can come to the next POWCAC meeting to weigh in, or schedule time to meet with the contractor or provide them written comments via email or letter or whatever,” he said. “There will be multiple opportunities for folks to weigh in.”
The study will allow Prince of Wales Island residents to understand the pros and cons of forming a borough. Bolling said some residents are concerned that neighboring boroughs might eventually try to annex parts of Prince of Wales if POW doesn’t form a borough first.
Alaska has 18 organized boroughs, and one very large unorganized borough, to which POW now belongs. About half of Alaska and about 13 percent of the state’s population are in the unorganized borough.
If Prince of Wales Island chooses to move forward with forming a borough, the process is rather involved. Don Burrell, a local government specialist for the Local Boundary Commission, said that after a borough formation petition has been filed with the LBC, it must be reviewed.
If it meets the basic standards, the formal process begins.
“The first step is a public comment period on the petition itself, and that lasts a minimum of 49 days, and can be extended longer depending on the needs of the borough and the citizens of the proposed borough,” he said.
That public comment period is open to anyone who wants to comment, not just those who live in the proposed borough boundaries.
When that comment period is over, the LBC reviews the comments and the petition, and then writes a preliminary report.
“Once that preliminary report is completed, it’s released to the public for review, and the second public comment period starts at that point,” he said. “Once that public comment period ends, then the staff takes into consideration, those public comments as well as everything that’s happened prior, and writes a final report.”
The final report goes to the Local Boundary Commission, along with a recommendation from staff. A public hearing in the affected area follows the final report, with a decision after that.
“For borough incorporation, it typically takes, from start to finish, and start being the submission for technical review, anywhere from a year to 18 months,” Burrell said.
If the LBC approves the petition, what happens next depends on the type of process chosen by the petitioner. Burrell said a local election can be held, but the petitioners also can choose to have the state Legislature vote on whether to accept the new borough.