Constant dollars

Anchorage Assembly member calls for advisory vote on Eagle River separation

Eagle River secessionists could get a boost from an unexpected source: a staunch progressive in the Anchorage Coven.

On Monday, Assembly Deputy Speaker Christopher Constant, who represents the downtown Anchorage neighborhood, said on social networks that he intends to ask the Assembly to pose a question to Anchorage voters on the April ballot that asks, “Should the Eagle River area, Chugiak and Eklutna be detached from the Municipality of Anchorage and form a separate local government? “

The measure would not include the Elmendorf-Richardson Common Base and would be purely advisory, meaning that even if the majority of voters approved it, it would not separate communities north of the Anchorage Bowl.

“It’s just the idea that I’ve heard long and hard from members of the community of Eagle River – that they are interested in leaving the town. This is an opportunity to survey their neighbors in the municipality as a whole, ”Constant said in an interview.

An advisory vote is not necessarily tied to a specific action or process, and it’s like “taking the temperature” on an idea, said Assembly President Suzanne LaFrance.

Constant said he plans to put his proposal on the agenda for the next Assembly meeting. The Assembly will have to vote if it wishes to send the issue to voters at the last meeting in January to have the measure included in this year’s ballot, Constant said. His proposal needs a simple majority to pass, he said.

An advisory vote, he said, would be “the most cost-effective way to put the issue on the table” and avoid costly polls and an awareness campaign by Eagle Exit, a group seeking to separate Eagle River, Chugiak and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson of the municipality.

Last year, EaglExit asked the city for money to support their campaign.

The Mayor of Anchorage, Dave Bronson, had forwarded a request to the Chugiak-Eagle River Advisory Council, asking if they wanted to spend money on parks and roads instead to explore the movement, but the proposal was canceled before it was presented to the board.

[Earlier coverage: Chugiak-Eagle River residents renew effort to separate from Anchorage]

Debbie Ossiander, co-chair of the board at the time, said the mayor’s office and EaglExit asked her to drop the proposal.

Bronson’s chief of staff at the time said the mayor neither supported nor opposed EaglExit.

When asked if Bronson would support putting the question on the ballots this year, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office said Bronson “cannot comment on the legislation until it is presented “.

Michael Tavoliero, chairman of the EaglExit campaign, did not respond to a request for comment.

Assembly member Felix Rivera said he was not surprised by the proposal because of Eagle River’s central role in the Tory mayor’s election victory last year over his progressive opponent.

Eagle River, a largely conservative district, “was the only reason Bronson is currently mayor,” Rivera said. “… So it’s absolutely no surprise that some people are really pushing for the Eagle Exit to actually happen.” “

[Eagle River secession movement asks Municipality of Anchorage for funding]

Rivera said the idea puts the mayor in a sticky position, as many Bronson supporters live in Eagle River and Chugiak, and many also support EaglExit.

“I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how the mayor reacts to something like that, because he knows his base is there,” Rivera said. “So he doesn’t want to upset his base – or lose his base. “

An Eagle River and Chugiak exit from the city would be plagued by complications, Rivera said, including questions of constitutionality, sharing of utilities and land investments. This is one reason why he has not supported the idea in the past.

Ossiander, a former member of the Assembly, said she believed an advisory vote on the issue was premature.

“There are so many complex questions. I think maybe taking one track at a time is a little more realistic than just skipping at the end and saying yes or no, ”she said.

There has been no recent or in-depth investigation into what this would cost communities and how services such as schools and utilities would be separated from the municipality, she said.

“We’re a long way from being able to say ‘should we go our separate ways now?’ Said Crystal Kennedy, who represents the district in assembly. “The question is: do we want to study the potential? Do people want to know what it would look like? “

Kennedy said she had been working for several months to review the proposal. Overall, she maintains that Eagle River has a more direct say in its local governance, but wants to ensure that any election proposal is worded in a way that does not scare or misinform residents before they come before them. .

“I am absolutely stunned to think that Chris Constant would come up with something like this, which has everything to do with my district and not his,” Kennedy said as she was on her way back south towards the municipality after spending the holidays at his cabin in the Willow area. “I’m a little insulted, really. “

Member Jamie Allard also represents the region in the assembly and said that while she herself is generally in favor of leaving Eagle River out of the municipality, any voting question should be carefully considered and formulated.

“It’s just his way of removing conservative representation from the municipality,” Allard said of Constant’s proposal. “We’ll have to figure out what the lines are, what the boundaries are, that’s not for Chris to determine.”

Allard said communities in North Anchorage tend to get closer to the Borough of Matanuska-Susitna when it comes to things like local government and the school board.

“I really believe that it would be beneficial for our community to leave the municipality,” said Allard. “Nothing prevents us from being part of Mat-Su. “

LaFrance said he had long heard some residents of Eagle River urging support for an outing.

“I definitely support the conversation and the exploration of the issue,” she said, although she did not say whether or not she would vote in favor of Constant’s proposal.

Several other Assembly members, reached by phone, had yet to see Constant’s proposal and declined to comment.

Since the current Assembly boundaries were incorporated in the 1970s, Eagle River has had a troubled relationship with the rest of the city and has passed several times during the separation.

“We called it the ‘Great Divorce’,” said Fred Dyson, former member of the assembly and state representative for the region, who supported a succession effort in the 1980s. “The problem with most divorces are the property settlement. “

While he remains firmly convinced that communities in northern Anchorage would be best served by full self-determination, Dyson said major questions have never been resolved about the mechanics of the split. Major public facilities such as school buildings and critical infrastructure such as the Eklutna Reservoir, Power Plant and Anchorage Regional Landfill should be considered.

Demographically, the region is whiter and much more politically conservative than the municipality as a whole, with huge pockets of active duty and retired military personnel. Of the sometimes strained relationship, Dyson recalls a former colleague saying, “We send them the best water in the state, they send us garbage and sex offenders,” referring to Eklutna Lake, the municipality. landfill and the Highland Mountain Correctional Center, which once housed sex offenders.

Eagle River already has several civic provisions that set it apart from most other parts of the municipality, such as its own parks and road service areas, as well as its own zoning and building standards. Whether residents in the area could pay for the same level of education, public safety and other services they currently enjoy without significantly raising their taxes remains a matter of controversy.

A 2007 study on the proposal concluded that an autonomous Eagle River “could not provide its potential citizens with the same level of service as the current MOA provided in 2006 without an increase in property taxes or some other form of revenue. “.

Dyson believes the expanded autonomy would be worth a tax hike, though he doubts the majority of residents feel the same and willingly choose to increase their own tax burden.

The EaglExit campaign disputed the calculations on this proposal.

In campaign materials, organizers say a self-sustaining Eagle River would have a smaller, more efficient local government structure.

“Who can manage your tax dollars more efficiently?” A bloated and insensitive municipality? Or a small local office with minimal staff that is easily accessible and held accountable by the public? Reads a campaign brochure. “Our goal is to create a lean and efficient government that uses private sector help where possible, which costs everyone less. “