Legislature(2021 - 2022)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)

03/30/2021 01:30 PM TRANSPORTATION

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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Heard & Held
-- Public Testimony --
Heard & Held
-- Public Testimony --
**Streamed live on AKL.tv**
             SB 105-ROAD SERVICE AREA CONSOLIDATION                                                                         
1:43:55 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MYERS  announced the consideration  of SENATE BILL  NO. 105                                                               
"An Act relating to road service area consolidation."                                                                           
1:44:00 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MYERS opened public testimony on SB 105.                                                                                  
1:45:11 PM                                                                                                                    
VALERIE   AMARILLAS,   Chair,   McGrath  Estates   Service   Area                                                               
Commission,  Fairbanks  North  Star  Borough  (FNSB),  Fairbanks,                                                               
Alaska, spoke  in opposition to  SB 105.  She stated that  no two                                                               
service areas have the same  number of miles, mill rate, assessed                                                               
value,   tax   cap  or   the   same   number  of   commissioners.                                                               
Consolidating road  service areas  (RSAs) would likely  result in                                                               
longer  response  times  and  force   small  contractors  out  of                                                               
business. Further, each second class  borough in Alaska is unique                                                               
and the current system works. In  addition, the scope of the bill                                                               
changed  when   "contiguous"  was   removed  from   the  original                                                               
information.  She  wondered  what  cost  savings  FBSB  hoped  to                                                               
achieve since RSAs currently  contribute approximately 90 percent                                                               
of  their budgetary  needs. If  FNSB  wishes to  make changes  to                                                               
RSAs,  the mayor  and assembly  should contact  the existing  RSA                                                               
Chairs to  discuss options; then  it should  be up to  the voting                                                               
public to decide, not RSA boards.                                                                                               
CHARLES  LEMKE, Chair;  Commissioner, University  Heights Service                                                               
Area,  Fairbanks North  Star Borough,  Fairbanks, Alaska,  stated                                                               
that he supported giving more  authority to RSAs because it could                                                               
reduce expenses but  he was unsure how it  would affect services.                                                               
He wondered  whether consolidating  RSAs would  include combining                                                               
RSA's funds and reserves. The  University Heights Subdivision RSA                                                               
was responsible  and frugal and homeowners  believe their service                                                               
area  provides  good  service. He  wondered  whether  this  would                                                               
increase  expenses  or dilute  services.  He  spoke in  favor  of                                                               
letting each RSA vote on whether to consolidate.                                                                                
1:50:36 PM                                                                                                                    
CANDY RYDLINSKI, Commissioner, Kris  Kringle Service Area (KKSA),                                                               
Fairbanks  North  Star  Borough,  North  Pole,  Alaska  spoke  in                                                               
opposition to SB 105, echoing  previous testifiers' concerns. She                                                               
stated that RSAs  are unique. She was unsure  what services would                                                               
be  provided. She  said  she  did not  understand  the reason  to                                                               
change the current system.                                                                                                      
1:51:30 PM                                                                                                                    
GEORGE  RYDLINSKI,  Member,  Kris Kringle  Service  Area  (KKSA),                                                               
Fairbanks  North  Star  Borough,  North Pole,  Alaska,  spoke  in                                                               
opposition  to  SB 105  due  to  a  lack  of information  on  the                                                               
proposed RSA consolidations.                                                                                                    
1:52:29 PM                                                                                                                    
MICHAEL  BRADLEY,  Commissioner,  McGrath Estates  Service  Area,                                                               
Fairbanks North  Star Borough,  Fairbanks, Alaska,  spoke against                                                               
SB   105  because   it  appeared   that   big  government   would                                                               
redistribute funds  from functioning  service areas to  ones with                                                               
deficits  or that  struggle to  fill commissioner  positions. The                                                               
McGrath  RSA  currently functions  well,  he  said. He  expressed                                                               
concern  that  consolidating  RSAs,  the level  of  service  will                                                               
diminish  without  gaining  efficiencies.  He  asked  members  to                                                               
consider the reason the borough  created RSAs in the first place.                                                               
If consolidating  RSAs is  a good  idea, FNSB  should consolidate                                                               
them all and take over road services, he said.                                                                                  
1:55:33 PM                                                                                                                    
DAN LABROSSE,  Chair; Commissioner,  Polar Heights  Service Area,                                                               
Fairbanks  North  Star  Borough,   Fairbanks,  Alaska,  spoke  in                                                               
opposition  to SB  105 because  his RSA  currently provides  good                                                               
services. He  stated that  he served as  RSA commissioner  for 20                                                               
years and was instrumental in  helping his neighborhood annex the                                                               
Polar Heights  Service Area,  which consists  of 2.6  road miles.                                                               
Prior  to  annexing  the  RSA,  his  subdivision  had  poor  road                                                               
conditions  but  under  the  RSA,  the  roads  are  in  excellent                                                               
condition.  He  expressed   concern  about  potential  diminished                                                               
services. Currently, Polar Heights  RSA members volunteer to fill                                                               
potholes  and   neighbors  report   problems,  such   as  clogged                                                               
culverts.  He   stated  that  the  RSA   coordinates  contracting                                                               
services  with  an  adjacent  RSA  to  achieve  efficiencies  for                                                               
snowplowing.  He  acknowledged   that  RSA  consolidations  might                                                               
reduce some administrative costs but not RSA member taxes.                                                                      
1:58:51 PM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
1:59:48 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MYERS reconvened the meeting.                                                                                             
1:59:52 PM                                                                                                                    
CHRISTINE  ROBBINS, representing  self, Fairbanks,  Alaska, spoke                                                               
in opposition to SB 105. She stated  that not one of the 103 RSAs                                                               
have the  same mileage,  mill rate, assessed  value, or  tax cap.                                                               
She  said she  did not  think voters  would support  changes. She                                                               
suggested that members should hold  off approving SB 105 to allow                                                               
more   people   to  voice   their   opinions   on  the   proposed                                                               
2:01:02 PM                                                                                                                    
APRIL  TRICKEY,  Borough  Clerk, Fairbanks  North  Star  Borough,                                                               
Fairbanks,   Alaska,  stated   that   she   is  responsible   for                                                               
administering municipal elections and  all service area elections                                                               
held in  March or  November. She  stated that  she and  her staff                                                               
were neutral on SB 105.                                                                                                         
MS.  TRICKEY  reported  that the  Fairbanks  North  Star  Borough                                                               
Clerk's office  conducted 51 service area  elections between 2016                                                               
through 2020 as  compared to two conducted by  the Mat-Su Borough                                                               
during  the  same  period.  FNSB's  code  requires  service  area                                                               
elections be  conducted using the procedures  for absentee voting                                                               
in person, by mail or electronic transmission.                                                                                  
MS.  TRICKEY   highlighted  the  challenges  in   conducting  RSA                                                               
elections.  First,  FNSB  has  not  been  able  to  obtain  voter                                                               
precinct  lists from  the Division  of Elections.  She elaborated                                                               
that  several years  ago,  the borough  added  five fire  service                                                               
areas  to  the  state's Election  Electronic  Records  Management                                                               
System.  The Region  III Division  of Elections'  office did  not                                                               
support  adding the  103 RSAs  and two  utility service  areas to                                                               
their system  because it would  be such a time  consuming process                                                               
to  enter  and  maintain  voter  records.  Without  the  precinct                                                               
register,  the  Canvas  Board  must use  a  two-step  process  to                                                               
validate  voters. As  ballots are  received by  the borough,  the                                                               
Canvas Board  must determine whether  the person is  a registered                                                               
voter in the borough. Next,  FNSB's Canvas Board cross checks the                                                               
name  against its  list  of all  resident  addresses within  that                                                               
service  area boundary  or annexation  area to  determine if  the                                                               
person's address  falls within the  service area and  their votes                                                               
can be counted.                                                                                                                 
2:05:02 PM                                                                                                                    
MS. TRICKEY, in response to  a previous question about conducting                                                               
service  area  elections  when   municipal  elections  are  held,                                                               
explained the  challenges. First, the service  area boundaries do                                                               
not align  with precinct boundaries. Second,  service areas cross                                                               
more than one precinct boundary.  At times, more than one service                                                               
area falls within a precinct  boundary. Second, she would need to                                                               
hire an additional  person to conduct the  service area election,                                                               
which would  drive up the  service area election  costs. Finally,                                                               
she would need to train the  Canvas Boards to provide guidance to                                                               
voters during  a service area  election since residents,  who may                                                               
own property  in a  service area and  annexation area,  often are                                                               
uncertain which ballot to request.                                                                                              
2:07:06 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER stated he will  consult with the Mat-Su Borough on                                                               
their  process. He  offered to  pass  on any  information to  the                                                               
committee.  He  wondered if  FNSB  might  be  able to  take  some                                                               
actions to streamline the process.  For example, if FNSB wants to                                                               
consolidate RSAs, perhaps it can conduct one election.                                                                          
MS.  TRICKEY explained  that an  election must  be held  for each                                                               
service   area.  Thus,   it   would  be   too   complex  due   to                                                               
accountability   requirements   regarding   ballots   and   voter                                                               
eligibility.  Further,  it would  not  be  possible to  meet  the                                                               
requirement  to complete  the  count within  7  days. She  opined                                                               
holding one election for 105 service areas was not attainable.                                                                  
2:11:18 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. BRADLEY deferred to Mr. Williams.                                                                                           
2:11:54 PM                                                                                                                    
JIM  WILLIAMS, Chief  of Staff,  Mayor's Office,  Fairbanks North                                                               
Star  Borough, Fairbanks,  Alaska,  speaking on  behalf of  Mayor                                                               
Ward,  explained that  the crux  of the  problem was  due to  the                                                               
large  number of  service areas.  Further, as  testified to  at a                                                               
previous hearing, RSA consolidation  elections typically fail due                                                               
to a lack of voter turnout.                                                                                                     
MR. WILLIAMS agreed that the  people opposing SB 105 were correct                                                               
that FNSB has  not done a good job explaining  the benefits of SB
105.  First,  consolidating   RSAs  would  reduce  administrative                                                               
costs.  He said  he  currently reviews  over  120 contracts  that                                                               
require invoices,  purchase orders, inspections,  and engineering                                                               
work.  Second, it  might be  possible  to hold  one election  for                                                               
RSAs, but each RSA being combined  must receive a majority of the                                                               
votes in order to combine all RSAs.                                                                                             
MR. WILLIAMS  said that  using the  ordinance process  would give                                                               
FNSB another  option to initiate  the RSA  consolidation process.                                                               
He agreed  that each service area  has its own set  of interests,                                                               
including  fund balances,  mill  rates,  services, service  level                                                               
quality and  cost per mile.  However, this pathway  would require                                                               
that to  consolidate two  RSAs, the  commissions must  agree that                                                               
their interests could be met. In  addition, it would go through a                                                               
public process.  An ordinance would  also need to be  approved by                                                               
the FNSB mayor and assembly, which is another public process.                                                                   
2:15:26 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER stated that he  recognized the problem the borough                                                               
has  in  administering  elections   but  public  testimony  shows                                                               
significant  opposition to  the bill.  He expressed  concern that                                                               
using an ordinance process would  mean the service area residents                                                               
would not  have an opportunity  to vote on the  consolidation. He                                                               
surmised FNSB  may need  to seek voter  approval by  developing a                                                               
blended solution.                                                                                                               
2:17:31 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. WILLIAMS agreed  that a number of  commissioners were opposed                                                               
to  SB  105.  However,  he  reminded  members  that  262  of  418                                                               
commission seats  are currently  filled. Thus, the  committee did                                                               
not hear  from a  majority of  the commissioners.  FNSB primarily                                                               
received  feedback  from  some commissioners  who  supported  the                                                               
concept. He  maintained this process  would give the  borough one                                                               
more  option  for  RSA consolidation  when  interests  align.  He                                                               
stated that maintaining 103 service areas was untenable.                                                                        
2:18:33 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR SHOWER suggested starting  by consolidating service areas                                                               
for those  who agree. He  offered his view  that there must  be a                                                               
way to resolve the issues.                                                                                                      
2:19:10 PM                                                                                                                    
JIMI CASH, Member, Fairbanks North  Star Borough Assembly, Chair,                                                               
Fairbanks,  Alaska,  stated  that  he  also  chairs  FNSB's  Road                                                               
Service Area Committee.  He stated that the  FNSB Assembly passed                                                               
a resolution in  support of SB 105. He  related his understanding                                                               
testifiers  viewed  SB  105  as   a  means  for  the  borough  to                                                               
consolidate  RSAs  without  obtaining   input  from  the  people.                                                               
However, the bill  requires commissioners of each  RSA must agree                                                               
to consolidate. If  so, it would remove the  necessity of holding                                                               
an  RSA  election. As  previously  mentioned,  often times  these                                                               
elections fail  because people do  not show up because  they lack                                                               
an interest  in the  election or they  were not  paying attention                                                               
and  did not  realize an  election was  being held.  For example,                                                               
although  he lived  most  of his  adult life  in  a service  area                                                               
served by  an RSA, but he  only attended two meetings.  He simply                                                               
did not  understand what  RSAs do  except plow  the roads  in his                                                               
MR.  CASH explained  that consolidating  RSAs  via the  ordinance                                                               
process would  remove burdens for staff,  including going through                                                               
the  process to  conduct elections  only  to have  them fail.  He                                                               
acknowledged  that  the  borough  did   not  do  a  good  job  of                                                               
contacting  or  explaining  the   issues  to  RSA  commissioners.                                                               
However,  FNSB has  an RSA  Committee, consisting  of one  public                                                               
member, two  assembly members and five  RSA commissioners. During                                                               
discussions,  the  committee's concern  was  to  ensure that  RSA                                                               
consolidations   did  not   occur   without   agreement  by   RSA                                                               
commissioners  affected by  the  consolidation.  He related  that                                                               
RSAs would have some cost savings.  He noted that some RSAs serve                                                               
one-quarter  of a  mile but  others are  miles long.  He recalled                                                               
that one election  to annex a small RSA with  a larger RSA failed                                                               
because  no one  in the  larger RSA  voted. It  did not  mean the                                                               
larger RSA  members disagreed with  the consolidation,  just that                                                               
they did not vote.                                                                                                              
2:23:13 PM                                                                                                                    
JILL  DOLAN,  Borough  Attorney, Fairbanks  North  Star  Borough,                                                               
Fairbanks, Alaska,  clarified that if  FNSB had the  authority to                                                               
consolidate  RSAs,  the borough  would  still  implement its  own                                                               
review process,  including conducting analysis,  assessing value,                                                               
identifying the  number of road miles  maintained and determining                                                               
the overall  maintenance cost. That  analysis would  be presented                                                               
and  recommendations would  be made  on whether  or not  to annex                                                               
prior to an ordinance being presented to the assembly.                                                                          
2:24:33 PM                                                                                                                    
At ease                                                                                                                         
2:24:52 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MYERS reconvened the meeting.                                                                                             
2:25:27 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR MYERS,  after first determining  no one wished  to testify,                                                               
closed public testimony on SB 105.                                                                                              
[SB 105 was held in committee.]                                                                                                 

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
SB105 Testimony - Received as of 3.30.21.pdf STRA 3/30/2021 1:30:00 PM
SB 105