PWS Borough Advisory Committee assembled

Feasibility study will look at current primary revenue sources

(From left) City Manager Alan Lanning, and councilmembers Jeff Guard, James Burton, and Melina Meyer listen to comments during the city council meeting at the Cordova Center on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

A Prince William Sound Borough Advisory Committee for Cordova was approved during the Sept. 19 city council meeting to advise the council amidst the beginning phases of a preliminary borough feasibility study.

Ezekiel Brown, Angela Butler and Sylvia Lange were the first three committee members appointed. The committee will consist of seven members total, appointed by Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin and confirmed by the city council.

Additionally, the committee will be staffed by two city employees, Assistant City Planner Leif Stavig and City Clerk Susan Bourgeois. Councilmember Melina Meyer, an ex officio member of the committee, will not have voting privileges.

Representatives from the Girdwood Governance Association and Information Insights attended a work session Sept. 21, with committee members, city staff and the public.

According to Jamie Hansen, senior consultant at Information Insights, the preliminary PWS borough feasibility study will take about two months and will include Cordova, Whittier, Chenega, Eyak, Tatitlek, Girdwood and Portage.

Information Insights is basing the preliminary feasibility study off of the PWS borough model created by the state’s Local Boundary Commission in 2003, excluding the city of Valdez, and adding Girdwood and Portage.

The study will look at current primary revenue sources, including public safety, roads, transportation and taxes.

“So, when we went to the (Local Boundary Commission), we were very interested in just being our own little community … the city of Girdwood,” GGA secretary Grace Pleasants said. “That is not possible. The state of Alaska will not support an application or a petition from the city of Girdwood. They will only support a petition from the city of Girdwood if we are associated with a borough. They are the ones that kind of geared us to and kind of suggested ‘take a look at PWS’.”

During the work session, Hansen and Nadine Winters of Winters Associates, a sub-contractor for Information Insights, answered questions and shared plans for the preliminary study.

“On the service side … the top issue is education,” Hansen said.

The preliminary study would factor in the cost per student and of operating schools and, through an education formula, determine how much state funding would come and what the local contribution requirement would be, she added. Hansen cited this as one of the most important aspects of the feasibility study.

“… With the borough and looking at those revenue sources … if those federal lands are in your borough, there’s potential for … a revenue source there …,” Winters said.

Winters and Pleasants noted that the state wants to create more boroughs and is pushing communities to form them.

“I’m a true believer of less government is better and so I am looking at this from personally as well as a member of my Girdwood Governance,” Pleasants said. “I want to be able to start out with as small a borough footprint as possible and then if we decide as communities we want to grow it, then we can do that.”

Information Insights will present the preliminary results this fall to Cordova, Whittier and the GGA.

Depending on the results, a meeting will be held for the funders of the study, as well as others who have interest in understanding the options of borough formation, to determine how or if to proceed, Hansen said.

If a borough is eventually formed, the state will give an organizational grant, amounting to $600,000 over three fiscal years, directly to the new borough, not to the entities or municipalities who may have financially supported the formation process.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the $25,000 contribution by Cordova would not necessarily be eligible for reimbursement. The Cordova Times is committed to accuracy. If you suspect an error, please email editor@thecordovatimes.com.