Legislature(2001 - 2002)
02/28/2002 08:10 AM CRA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
HB 296-MUNICIPAL MERGER AND CONSOLIDATION CO-CHAIR MORGAN announced that the first order of business would be HOUSE BILL NO. 296, "An Act relating to mergers and consolidations of municipalities." Number 0097 REPRESENTATIVE JIM WHITAKER, Alaska State Legislature, testified as the sponsor of HB 296. This legislation deals with the most basic tenet of democracy, self-determination. Representative Whitaker informed the committee that a large community can, by virtue of a vote, determine that a smaller community should become part of the larger community, no matter the decision of the smaller community. "This particular bill would correct that affront to democracy and self-determination," he explained. REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER explained that Section 1 of HB 296 merely cleans up existing statute. The current statute allows an indefinite amount of time for signatures to be collected in order to place a consolidation effort before the voters. Signatures may be collected over a period of time, five to ten years, and some of those signatures may be from people who no longer live in the area, yet those signatures would still count. This legislation would change that by requiring that signatures for such be collected in a period of one year. Number 0368 REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER turned to Section 2 of HB 296. To uphold the basic tenet of self-determination, that is community self-determination, it is unacceptable that a larger community simply absorbs an existing governmental entity. Representative Whitaker clarified that this discussion isn't about annexation. This legislation addresses the situation in which an existing city is absorbed by a borough, for example, and a consolidated government is formed. This happens even when a majority of the smaller entity preferred [not to be absorbed by the larger governmental entity]. Therefore, the smaller community's right to self-determination has been taken away. REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI recalled the request, during the Homer annexation, that smaller second class cities become involved in the dialogue during an annexation. Therefore, he requested that Representative Whitaker draw the distinction. REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER reiterated that annexation is a separate subject and doesn't apply to consolidation or unification, which this bill addresses. He deferred to Tam Cook, Legislative Legal Services, regarding the specific distinctions. Number 0596 REPRESENTATIVE GUESS inquired as to whether [HB 296] will result in the problem of one [local government] providing services to another [local government] which could create an incentive for voters [of the smaller community] to not vote for [consolidation/unification]. REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER agreed that could be a possibility. However, he emphasized the need to not, in the search for expediency and efficiency, trump a basic tenet such as self- determination. Representative Whitaker, in further response to Representative Guess, said he wasn't aware of any cases like Representative Guess had described. REPRESENTATIVE GUESS requested that Representative Whitaker review Section 3. Number 0729 REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER requested that Section 3 be deleted because that section [posed a problem for the Local Boundary Commissions (LBC)], and it wasn't a battle he felt could be won. CO-CHAIR MEYER asked that Representative Whitaker elaborate as to why he felt that he wouldn't win the battle with the LBC over Section 3. REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER remarked that [this battle] isn't worth fighting over. The LBC had significant objections to [Section 3] in relation to the it's ability to conduct their business. Representative Whitaker said that he didn't want HB 296 to become a review of the LBC and its powers. REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI requested clarification of the relationship of annexation of a second class city to a larger city such as in the Homer annexation. How does [HB 296] differ from [the Homer situation], he asked. Number 0986 TAMARA COOK, Director, Legal and Research Services Division, Legislative Affairs Agency, Alaska State Legislature, stated that the Homer situation is different in several regards. She explained that there are two ways in which to accomplish local boundary changes. One way to accomplish a local boundary change is by proposal by the LBC subject to legislative oversight. The second way is through local option. In the Homer situation, the first method, proposal by the LBC subject to legislative oversight, was utilized. However, Article X, Section 12 of the Alaska State Constitution does allow for local option boundary changes. The last sentence of Article X, Section 12, says, "The commission or board, subject to law, may establish procedures whereby boundaries may be adjusted by local action." Therefore, the statute being amended in HB 296 is a local action statute that has nothing to do with the LBC's authority over consolidation. MS. COOK also pointed out that there are procedures for annexation that are separate from those for consolidation. Representative Scalzi is correct in that there could be a situation in which annexation involves including one city into another city, although those issues are somewhat different. The statutes [encompassed in HB 296] deal with merger and consolidation, which always involve municipalities that join together. [Mergers and consolidations] never involve land that is unincorporated or borough land, which was the case in the Homer situation. Literally, merger and consolidation means that two municipalities come together to form a single municipality. Ms. Cook explained, "This particular provision is the local option merger and consolidation statute. The Local Boundary Commission could still, if it chose to get involved in a merger or consolidation, submit a proposal and do the route that we saw in Homer." Therefore, the constitution specifies that the legislature can pass laws that deal with the procedure for local option changes. The LBC does get involved in that it reviews local option merger and consolidation petitions. Ms. Cook pointed out that if the local option route is taken, a vote is taken. That [vote] is required by statute. Therefore, HB 296 places two more procedures into the already established statutory framework. Number 1201 MS. COOK explained that Section 1 of HB 296 changes [statute] such that only a year is allowed to collect signatures for a merger and consolidation petition. [Section 2] changes the vote requirement that currently exists for merger and consolidation [petitions]. Currently, all the people that would be included in the new proposed municipality vote and are counted in order to determine passage [of the merger/consolidation]. The significant change in Section 2 is that the votes of the areas will be tabulated separately, which Ms. Cook viewed as a legislative policy choice. CO-CHAIR MEYER inquired as to whether there is a problem with the current method of doing mergers and consolidations. MS. COOK said that she wasn't familiar with any facts on that matter. Number 1344 DAN BOCKHORST, Staff, Local Boundary Commission; Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED), testified via teleconference. Mr. Bockhorst noted that the LBC hasn't yet formally considered HB 296. However, he noted that he has discussed HB 296 with the LBC Chairman, Kevin Waring, who agrees with the views he will state today. In regard to Section 1, Mr. Bockhorst said that the department considers it to be reasonable and thus endorses it. In regard to Section 2, Mr. Bockhorst concurred with Ms. Cook's comments that Section 2 is a policy decision. He pointed out that Article X, Sections 3 and 7, of the Alaska State Constitution impose the duty on the legislature to determine which municipal governments will be merged and consolidated. Therefore, the department views Section 2 as a legitimate public policy proposal deserving serious consideration. Number 1470 MR. BOCKHORST noted that the current law provides for an areawide vote. That law has been in place since 1972, and was reenacted in 1985 when Title 29 was comprehensively rewritten. He turned to the policy debate on the merits of providing a requirement for separate votes in each municipal government. The Alaska Supreme Court has held that the constitutional policy of minimizing the number of local government units - as established in Article X, Section 1, of the Alaska State Constitution - is served when city and borough governments do join. Therefore, the more difficult it is to merge or consolidate, the less the aforementioned constitutional policy is served. MR. BOCKHORST informed the committee that in 1991 the legislature created an ad hoc task force on governmental roles, which was intended to address efficiencies and effectiveness. That ad hoc committee presented its report to the legislature in 1992. Among the conclusions of the ad hoc committee was that merger, consolidation, and unification of city governments and borough governments should be encouraged, when possible, in order to achieve more efficient and cost-effective service delivery. Since HB 296 would require a vote of each municipality, it would - to varying degrees - raise the bar for municipal mergers and consolidations. However, Section 2 wouldn't have created particularly extreme situations in the recent proposals before the LBC. The recent proposals before the commission have been such that a single city government and a single borough government have proposed consolidation. In all cases, the city governments have encompassed a substantial portion of the borough population -- ranging from approximately 40 percent to 75 percent of the population of the total borough. The LBC has dealt with proposals for the consolidation of the following: the City of Haines and the Haines Borough, the City of Ketchikan and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough, and the City of Fairbanks and the Fairbanks North Star Borough. However, slight changes in those proposals could have resulted in Section 2 of HB 296 making it more difficult to merge or consolidate. For example, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough consists of the City of Ketchikan and the City of Saxman. If Section 2 had been in place and had the City of Saxman been included in the Ketchikan consolidation proposal, voter approval from each of the three municipal governments effected would have been required. Because of the characteristics of the City of Saxman, such a situation would have allowed 2-3 percent of the voters to block a consolidation, even if the remaining voters had endorsed the consolidation. Number 1723 MR. BOCKHORST turned to Representative Scalzi's comment regarding the merger/consolidation of the City of Homer and the City of Kachemak. This is a situation in which the provisions of HB 296 might make it more difficult to consolidate the aforementioned local governments, if the local option process was used. Under current law, the consolidation of the City of Homer and the City of Kachemak would require a majority of the total votes cast. Requiring separate voter approval could result in a situation in which roughly 4 percent of the total number of votes cast in that proposal could prevent the consolidation. However, he stressed that there are alternatives such as a proposal for legislative review annexation of the City of Kachemak to the City of Homer. In the past there have been instances in which city governments have been consolidated or merged through annexation. For example, the City of Port Chilkoot was annexed to the City of Haines in 1970. An extreme example of a situation in which the separate vote requirement could impact the outcome of consolidation is with the City of Kupreanof, which joins the City of Petersburg. The City of Kupreanof receives services from the City of Petersburg. If the separate voter approval requirement was in place, less than one- half of one percent of the total voters could preclude consolidation of the City of Kupreanof and the City of Petersburg. However, the consolidation, in effect, could occur through a legislative review annexation. REPRESENTATIVE HALCRO related his understanding that in a situation in which one community provides services to another community, a small number of voters in the smaller city could block a consolidation or merger. However, if the case is strong enough, the city providing the services could propose its claim to the LBC through the annexation process. MR. BOCKHORST answered yes. In further response to Representative Halcro, Mr. Bockhorst agreed that in the most egregious cases, when a consolidation is being refused for all the wrong reasons, there is a safety net [in the legislative review annexation]. Number 1926 PETE ROBERTS, President, Citizens Concerned About Annexation, testified via teleconference. Mr. Roberts announced support of HB 296 [in order to maintain] self-determination and local control. He pointed out that [the U.S.] legal system includes many built-in provisions to thwart a large majority from rolling over a smaller minority. Mr. Roberts said he feels Section 2 is appropriate. He pointed out that Article I, Section 2, of the Alaska State Constitution says, "All political power is inherent in the people." Mr. Roberts expressed the need to review boundary changes by decree. There needs to be due process. Number 2122 CO-CHAIR MEYER noted that his earlier question regarding examples of this problem had been answered through the examples specified by Mr. Bockhorst and through the information in the committee packet regarding the Fairbanks North Star Borough. CO-CHAIR MORGAN, in response to Representative Halcro, announced that there is a fiscal note. REPRESENTATIVE GUESS pointed out that the size of the fiscal note would depend upon who is in charge of the election. REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER, in response to Co-Chair Meyer, answered that HB 296 is not an unfunded mandate. CO-CHAIR MEYER indicated that under HB 296 cities would be required to do more work. REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER replied no, and explained that there would be one election with separate counts [for the separate local governments]. He acknowledged that such might take an hour more of work. REPRESENTATIVE GUESS asked if it was Representative Whitaker's belief that this change should occur so that one-half of one percent could actually block a merger. REPRESENTATIVE WHITAKER replied: It is not my intent to allow any obstructionist effort; it is my intent to continue to provide the right to self-determination. As a result of that, there may be circumstances and situations wherein one- half of one percent may be viewed by the other ninety- nine point five percent as being obstructionist. However, the rights of that one-half of one percent have been maintained. Number 2270 REPRESENTATIVE GUESS moved that the committee amend HB 296 by deleting Section 3. There being no objection, Section 3 was deleted. Number 2303 REPRESENTATIVE SCALZI moved to report HB 296 as amended out of committee with individual recommendations and the accompanying zero fiscal note. There being no objection, CSHB 296(CRA) was reported from the House Community and Regional Affairs Standing Committee. The committee took a brief at-ease from 8:43 a.m. to 8:45 a.m.