Dillingham council delays annexation vote
The Dillingham City Council held a special workshop and meeting on Oct. 16 with the intent of voting to adopt the proposed annexation of the Nushagak commercial fishing district for the purpose of collecting a 2.5 percent raw fish tax.
Instead, the council voted to delay that vote till the Nov. 6 meeting, citing an effort to allow other Nushagak drainage communities more time to voice concerns.
The motion to do so was put forward by councilman Keggie Tubbs.
"I feel more strongly than ever that borough formation is in all of our best interests," said Tubbs, referring to other villages in the Nushagak drainage. "I recommend we delay this vote to show a good faith effort to the other communities that we're serious about moving in that direction."
Forming a borough, which has been long discussed and studied, has become something of a pipedream to those who have worked toward it the most. However, Mayor Alice Ruby told the council that annexing the fishing district and working toward borough formation were not mutually exclusive.
"We can work on both simultaneously, and concurrently reach out to the communities to continue discussions about borough formation," said Ruby. She told the council the city has been waiting for invites from the communities, as the city had been "rebuffed" in the past after inviting itself.
The city's lawyer, according to Ruby, said that further delay could prevent the petition from being submitted to the Alaska Legislature for approval in time for the 2016 session.
It could take the Local Boundary Commission up to a year to approve the petition, and it must be submitted 45 days prior to the start of a session. If not submitted until the Legislature meets in 2017, the soonest the city could resume collecting the 2.5 percent tax would be the 2017 season.
The draft petition is largely unchanged from the version approved by the Local Boundary Commission in 2011, which was adopted through a Dillingham special election in the spring of 2012. After being struck down in the spring of 2014 by the local superior court judge, the city redrafted the proposal, and the council has previously shown its intent to submit the petition for legislative review, a method which does not require the public to vote.
"The voters told us in 2012 that they support this, and we should remember that as we go forward," said councilman Paul Liedberg, who supports the annexation. Liedberg was the only council member who voted against further delay at the Wednesday night meeting. Councilman Bob Himschoot, who did not run for reelection to his council seat, is also a supporter of annexation. He said he voted for the delay in order to let newly elected councilwoman Misty Savo have a chance to weigh in with her own vote. "Otherwise, my vote to delay would be a definite 'no'," he said, speaking by phone. Savo was seated on the council at the end of Wednesday's meeting.
Other than Liedberg, Himschoot, and Ruby (who does not vote), the other council members seemed to offer only tepid support, if any, for the proposed annexation. Several members asked that concerns for revenue sharing with the other communities be addressed. The community of Manokotak is also apparently moving toward its own annexation of the Igushik section of the Nushagak district, which is largely fished by Manokotak set-netters.
Plans for revenue sharing are not included in the current petition, nor have any council members offered models on how to spread the collected tax money beyond Dillingham. Ruby also said the city was invited only to Manokotak and New Stuyahok to discuss annexation, and the plans to visit the latter community fell through. Ruby went on to tell the council that she is not in favor of revenue sharing.
Robert Heyano, who has led the opposition to the annexation, spoke for about 10 minutes during the workshop ahead of the special council meeting. Heyano called for the council to abandon its annexation efforts and pursue borough formation and other city-specific solutions to long-term fiscal challenges.
"There is no support for this," he told the council. "None of the other communities support it, none of the regional organizations support it, and only about half of the voters in Dillingham supported it when we took the vote." (Annexation passed by a 352-301 margin in April of 2012.)
"If you're serious about finding a solution that's beneficial to the whole region, you can't move forward with this proposal," Heyano said.
Dillingham collected $848,910 dollars from the 2.5 percent raw fish tax in fiscal year 2013. The city has budgeted for roughly $200,000 in deficit spending this year, citing the lack of raw fish tax collected during the 2014 fishing season. The city council is now scheduled to vote on whether to adopt the annexation petition at its Nov. 6 meeting.