To Be or Not To Be: The City of Big Lake, Alaska

Thursday, December 18 2014 @ 12:16 PM AKST

Contributed by: DG

The Question seems simple enough: Should Big Lake transition from an unincorporated Community to a 2nd Class Alaskan City, or not? If so, why, and if not, why not? In my informal discussions of this topic with residents, business owners, and members of the community, many questions have been raised. Because of the importance of this action to the Big Lake Community and the Valley, we'll provide some information that you may not have heard about. We'll also attempt to translate the legalese for you.

This is a rather long article, but a very important subject. Feel free to make your voice heard, anonymous comments to this article are enabled.

First, some background:

From the LBC report: "The Petition to the Local Boundary Commission for Incorporation of Big Lake as a Second-Class City within the Organized Borough using the Local-Option Method (Big Lake petition) was submitted to LBC staff on October 17, 2013. It was returned to the petitioners to gather more valid signatures, and to address deficiencies within the petition. After the petitioners addressed those, the department accepted the petition for filing on July 24, 2014."

A question that has been asked of me numerous times is "Who signed the petition, and where was it circulated?"

"The notice that both petitions had been accepted for filing was published in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman on July 29, August 5, and August 12, 2014. The opportunity for the public to submit written comments for both petitions started on July 29 and ended on October 3, 2014. This provided ample opportunity for public comment. Interested parties were given 66 days to submit responsive briefs and comments supporting or opposing one or both petitions. No responsive briefs were filed for either petition, so there are no respondents. 22 comments and reply briefs were submitted."

Deadline for Comments on this Report
The deadline for receipt of written comments concerning this report and its recommendations is 4:30 p.m., Friday, January 16, 2014. Submit written comments to:

LBC staff
550 W. 7th Ave., Ste. 1640,
Anchorage, AK 99501
Fax: 907-269-4539


Big Lake Incorporation Petition
Jim Faiks,
Petitioner’s Representative
19559 W. Bryant Road Big Lake, AK 99652


Houston Annexation Petition
Mayor Virgie Thompson,
Petitioner’s Representative
13878 W. Armstrong
Houston AK 99694

After all of the comments have been submitted, the staff will then consider and analyze the petitions
and comments. After doing so it will issue a final report with a recommendation to the commission.
The recommendation could vary from or remain the same as the recommendation in the preliminary report. The report will be publically available."

Twenty people submitted comments. Your opportunity to be heard is still open. See below. To submit your comments see above. You can also post in the comments section of this story.

Map of proposed revised boundaries.

Further, from the report: "Commerce finds that Big Lake encompasses a community in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough (hereafter “borough”) for several reasons. First, according to the latest estimate from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Big Lake has 3,590 people as of July 2013. A permanent population of 3,590 greatly surpasses that of the 25 permanent residents required by the regulations. Further, Big Lake has existed for at least 30 years. It was originally a summer recreation destination that evolved in to a community with over 3,500 year round residents. Residents frequent local restaurants and stores, support local social groups such as the Big Lake Lions Club. The Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District has an elementary school in Big Lake. The proximity of all these services and infrastructure allow for frequent personal contacts and interaction.

Also, under 3 AAC 110.920(b), public access to or the right to reside at the location of the population is not restricted, nor is the location of the population provided by an employer and occupied as a condition of employment primarily by persons who do not consider the place to be their permanent residence. Thus, Big Lake still constitutes a community. After analyzing 3 AAC 110.005,3 AAC 110.920 and3AAC 110.990(5),

Commerce finds that Big Lake comprises a community, and that the standards are met."

More: "Per 3 AAC 110.010(a), Commerce finds that the Big Lake community demonstrates a reasonable need for city government.

"On the other hand, a city council can administer municipal powers more effectively. It can also represent the community’s interests more effectively than having constituents drive to the borough seat in Palmer to meet with borough officials. It can provide services that the community association cannot.

"The community demonstrates a reasonable need for city government because of existing or reasonably anticipated economic development. The populations of both the borough and the Big Lake territory are growing rapidly. There is recent or planned development near Big Lake. The Goose Creek prison southeast of the proposed city boundaries recently opened. Rail extension and the Knik Arm Bridge are also being planned. The residents of Big Lake can better control or influence planned development if they have a city because the city could eventually adopt planning powers, if permitted to do so by the borough.

The community also demonstrates a reasonable need for city government because of the existing or reasonably anticipated health, safety, and general welfare conditions. The populations of both the borough and Big Lake are growing. Despite that growth, there is no borough police department. Instead, borough residents outside of the cities of Wasilla, Palmer, and Houston rely on the state troopers. While Big Lake enjoys a much lower crime rate than both the state and national median, crime does exist. The prospective city would like to have the ability to develop a police department in the future. A Big Lake police force is not possible without incorporation.

"Most importantly, the community demonstrates a reasonable need for city government because of the
inadequacy of existing services. Big Lake is a rapidly growing community whose needs are not effectively met by the borough. If Big Lake incorporates, it can assume the responsibility of road maintenance of local roads from the borough. The borough currently provides road maintenance though the Big Lake Road Service Area (RSA #21). It levies 2.57 mills in FY 15 to pay for the road maintenance in the proposed city. The FY 2013 actual revenue generated from RSA #21 includes real property taxes, delinquent property taxes, penalty and interest, vehicle tax state collection, and interest on investments. Those sources generated $1,127,864 in FY 13, $1,203,100 in FY 14, and are estimated to generate $1,249,350 in FY 15 for the borough. The petitioners feel that a city government can provide more effective and efficient road maintenance through an annual contract of $600,000. Their capital expenses start at $300,000 and go to $450,000. The proposed city could exercise the power over road maintenance to provide safer roadways for the residents within Big Lake.

"Regarding 3 AAC 110.010(c), no other city or borough can provide Big Lake with essential municipal services more efficiently or more effectively than a city of Big Lake could. As shown above, the prospective city could offer the essential municipal service of road service for less money than the borough. It is likely that the city would have a very good knowledge of the road conditions within the city. The borough cannot provide road service to the city more effectively or efficiently than the city could. Further, as above, the borough cannot provide police service because it has no police department."

I realize this may be a lot to try and digest during the Holidays, but there's more:

"(A)the reasonably anticipated functions of the proposed city; The Big Lake petition states that if incorporated, the city would exercise local community development, local economic development, taxation, disaster planning in coordination with the borough, capital improvement programs, road maintenance, and parks and recreation powers. The petition also states on page 42 that the city would provide road maintenance, parks, recreation, and general administration, but states on page 30 that road service is the only power that the city will take control of upon incorporation at that time. The city would initially provide road maintenance and city administration. It is the staff’s understanding that in two years or so the city would assume parks and recreation service, but that there are no definite plans to assume other services. The community of Big Lake has a community inhabited by a diverse group of skilled and professional residents that possess the necessary skills to employ and fulfill the general administration, road maintenance, and parks and recreation departments. "

This will answer some questions posted previously: "(B) the reasonably anticipated expenses of the proposed city; The petition includes the proposed city’s budgets for the first four years of incorporation. The budgets
include general and capital revenue and expenses, and generate a surplus for the first four fiscal years after incorporation. After reviewing the budget, staff has found a minor error in the addition of the second year’s revenue and this has offset the following years by a revenue decrease of $22,000–$26,000.

"City expenses include staff, travel, facility expense, supplies, equipment, elections, and a road service contract. Commerce’s figures indicate that total expenditures for the first fiscal (FY) year is $1,403,272, second FY is $1,468,886, third is FY $1,544,731, and the fourth FY is $1,626,866. Commerce’s figures indicate that
the proposed FY budget will have a surplus of $274,312 the first year of incorporation, and at the end of the fourth year of incorporation, the city will have an estimated $81,024 budget surplus. The budget shows capital expenses rising by $50,000 in each of the first few years, but it is staff’s understanding that the city will not continue to make capital expenses at that increasing rate; the spending would only occur if there are sufficient funds to do to."

The LBC recommends the incorporation of Big Lake.

We plan for more articles on this subject.

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