So far, it looks like Petersburg-area voters have approved the formation of a Borough, but the are still more ballots to count. The mail-in election wrapped-up Tuesday. Matt Lichtenstein reports:
State Elections director Gail Fenumiai released the unofficial results shortly after the Petersburg Post office had closed and the deadline had been reached for the mail-in vote Tuesday.
“Well we counted 1068 ballots today for the Petersburg Borough incorporation elections and the question on whether or not to incorporate ‘yes’ is at 584 and ‘no’ is at 476,” according to Fenumiai.
That’s about 55 percent of voters in favor of forming a borough and just under 45 percent who said “no”. By Tuesday’s postmark deadline, The unofficial count showed the state had received ballots back from about 41 percent of eligible voters. More ballots are expected to arrive in the mail over the coming days. For instance, in-person voting was still available at the Petersburg City Council Chambers up until the close of business Tuesday and that resulted in about 70 more ballots.
If the unofficial results hold, City Mayor Mark Jensen will be the Borough Mayor and Petersburg will have its first borough assembly meeting in early January:
“I guess it could still change but if you look at the percentages it looks like the borough initiative is going to pass. You’re aware of my position on it. I think it’s a good thing for us, for the region. So, I just hope the numbers grow,” Jensen said.
The newly-incorporated borough government would have a broader tax-base and planning authority over an area of land and sea that’s about 83 times the size of the current city boundaries. Proponents say a borough government would also give the community more say in environmental and resource development issues.
Jensen and other candidate’s for borough office ran unopposed on the ballot. Under state rules, borough candidates and appointees have to file financial disclosure forms with the Alaska Public Offices Commission. That may be partly why there were several empty seats, including two spots on the borough assembly. Jensen is hopeful people will step up for appointments:
“I hope that people will take the initiative to get the paperwork in to APOC that they need to fill those vacancies….I hope that people that were against the borough will try to get involved and we can all move forward in a positive direction,” he said.
Borough opponents have raised concerns about more taxes with no new services and the potential for more regulations and government control in areas that currently have no municipal authority. They’ve also been critical of the city’s borough planning process.
Tom Reinarts, who was among them, said, “I guess I have to say I’m disappointed. Obviously, I was one of those that was opposed to the borough as it was proposed in the petition. You know the voters decide. The voters decided and it is disappointing but I hope that from here on out there is a healing process and we all roll up our sleeves and find a way to work together and make it successful for everybody.”
Reinarts is a City Councilor in Kupreanof, which has opposed it’s inclusion in the Borough. The small community of about 30 people is just across the Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg. Under the Borough Charter, Kupreanof would remain a city and retain its own local planning powers.
The borough will also incorporate a number of other neighborhoods, residences and businesses that are now outside Petersburg. The Borough population would include close to 33 hundred people, about ten percent more than the city. The new boundaries would encompass the Petersburg’s home island of Mitkof as well as Woewodski to the south and about half of Kupreanof Island to the west. It also includes the mainland territory from LeConte Bay up to Holkum Bay just south of the Juneau Borough Boundary.
The City and Borough of Juneau submitted a petition to annex some of that same territory and its mounted a legal challenge over the issue. The City of Kake on Western Kupreanof Island also objected to the Petersburg boundaries, but unlike Juneau, Kake did not file a competing petition.
The Division of Elections plans to do another vote count on December 28th and once more on January 2nd before certifying the Petersburg election on January 3rd.
Below are the unofficial election results as posted by the state’s Division of Elections Tuesday, December 18th.
Registered Voters 2623 – Cards Cast 1068 40.72%
Total Votes 1060
YES 584 55.09%
NO 476 44.91%
Total Votes 836
Jensen, Mark L. 708 84.69%
Koenigs, Don 128 15.31%
Total Votes 2421
Flint, Susan 637 26.31%
Havrilek, John R. 605 24.99%
Hoag, John 589 24.33%
Strand, Nancy 590 24.37%
Total Votes 1309
Ellis, Jean L. 666 50.88%
File, Cheryl H. 643 49.12%
Total Votes 2626
Abbott, Tom 673 25.63%
Koeneman, Timothy “T 614 23.38%
Tejera, Rocio 619 23.57%
Whitethorn, Darlene 720 27.42%
There were no candidates for the seven seats on the Planning and Zoning Commission. If the Borough ultimately passes, all the vacant seats will have to be appointed by the Mayor and Borough Assembly.