Mosquito Lake residents question Haines Borough about on-call police service proposal

The Mosquito Lake School, now used as a community center. (File photo by Emily Files/KHNS)

The Mosquito Lake School, now used as a community center. (File photo by Emily Files/KHNS)

The Haines Borough hosted a town hall meeting at the Mosquito Lake Community Center to address a proposal to provide local police service outside of the townsite.

Residents living out the Haines Highway, Mud Bay Road and Lutak Road may have the opportunity to vote on whether they want on-call police service during the general election in October.

Alaska State Troopers withdrew last year its only blue shirt officer from the Chilkat Valley. That officer used to patrol outside the Haines townsite.

Since then the Haines Assembly has been trying to figure out how to address police services in those areas of the borough.

The Assembly introduced an ordinance that would create a new, on-call police service area, outside the townsite.

The Assembly has since split that up into three areas. One for the Haines Highway Corridor, one for Mud Bay, and another for Lutak Rd.

The on-call service would be provided by the Haines Borough Police Department and paid for through a 0.73 mill rate on residents within the service areas.

Residents within each service area would vote on the proposed ordinance this October if approved by the Assembly.

During public comments at the Mosquito Lake town hall meeting, George Campbell was concerned the Assembly had not done enough to try to get the state trooper reinstated in the Haines Borough to handle calls outside of town.

“Before we have to vote on whether or not we want police protection, I would want to see a much more aggressive approach towards the troopers because again, it’s not the troopers,” Campbell said. “The troopers do not get to decide what their jurisdiction is,”

Borough Manager Debra Schnabel responded that the state has made it clear they consider the Haines Borough to have police jurisdiction.

Assembly member Sean Maidy defended the borough’s efforts to try to get the state trooper back. He said in spite of their best efforts, nobody they have reached out to has been able to help.

“We’ve spoken with the governor. I’ve spoken with the governor, House District 33 Rep. Kito, House District 34 Rep. Parish, Zach Fansler when he was still the state public safety commissioner, the actual commissioner, the deputy commissioner, anybody who you can think of that you could talk to, to say we need this to come back,” Maidy said.

One of the main concerns expressed by residents was the cost of the on-call service and the mill rate tax that would be used to pay for it.

Many residents said they shouldn’t have to pay a mill rate for the on-call service when they already pay sales tax that helps fund the police force.

Police Chief Heath Scott has estimated an additional $70,000 would be needed to provide service for all of the areas included in the ordinance. The estimate is based on paying officers for overtime, standby time as well as vehicle support costs.

“We did have an equation that we thought that every time we came out here, specifically for a serious offense, it’s about a two-hour call, a two-and-a-half-hour call,” Scott said. “Just on the response side. That includes gas, wear and tear on the vehicle. So these are things that we factored in budgetarily. And we have a number for that kind of hourly cost.”

Haines Public Safety Commission chair and 18-mile resident Patrick Hefley questioned how the cost of service would change if only one or two of the service areas were approved by voters.

How much the police service would cost for each area specifically was unclear, Borough Manager Schnabel said.

“We figured we will probably end up using a formula that has to do with population, size, response time, you know all the rest of that,” Schnabel said.

Others were concerned that the kind of police service described in the ordinance did not align with the needs of residents living out the highway.

Resident Kyle Ponsford took issue with a section of the ordinance that says services may include patrols based on scheduled events, citizen complaints or a request.

“This document needs to be rewritten for us to even think about passing it is just the on-call part. When you are called on an emergency you come out. Other than that, you don’t come out.”

Toward the end of the meeting, Schnabel recognized a majority of people in the room would probably vote no, but she defended putting the question of the service area to a vote.

Assembly member Brenda Josephson encouraged those in attendance to reach out to her with suggested changes to the proposed ordinance.

“There is an opportunity for amendments. I have heard several people responding in a similar way to the services that are being provided. I need you guys to email me your thoughts. You need to give me the words that are concerning to you.”

Haines Assembly will hold a public hearing on the police service ordinance at its Aug. 21 meeting.

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