Petersburg is far from the presidential swing state circuit and does not even have any contested state legislative races to weigh in on this fall. However, yard signs are up around town showing a political campaign of a different sort heating up this fall. Supporters and opponents of the creation of a new Petersburg borough are making their case through mailings and on the airwaves, editorial page and online.
Petersburg’s borough promotion committee held a work session in late October with one committee member and five city employees talking strategy for borough promotion. The city will be circulating fact sheets about what it sees are the benefits of the new government. “As you go through these facts I think its pretty clear that this benefits the majority of members of this community in really major ways,” said City manager Steve Giesbrecht. “Even a lot of the anti-borough people who are worried about certain aspects of it, in real terms this is a benefit to them. They may not understand that they may not believe it.”
Voters in the proposed area will be deciding in December whether to form a new borough with expanded municipal boundaries and taxing authority. The city has posted arguments for borough formation on its website and facebook page. It plans to air editorials on the radio, has paid for ads in the newspaper and is handing out yard signs promoting a “yes” vote along with mailings to post office boxes this fall.
“We continue to hear people with some of these really basic questions that they didn’t catch in either the original (frequently asked questions) that were done or the other stuff that was done,” Giesbrecht said. So I think this will be valuable to folks.”
“Getting the facts to people will alleviate the confusion more than anything,” said committee member Mike Bangs. The city organized that committee this fall and has budgeted 15-thousand dollars for borough promotion. That compares to an estimated 35-hundred dollars collected by the group Concerned Citizens of the Unorganized Borough or CCUB
“We are a very loose knit organization and I refer to myself as the ad hoc secretary treasurer,” said George Cole, who lives in Keene Channel and is a member of the group that opposes the Petersburg borough as its proposed. Cole said many of the group’s members do not want to be included in a municipality. “Whole lot of the reason that we’re living where we’re living is because we enjoy the lack of close governmental supervision,” he noted.
Cole said CCUB has been meeting on a monthly basis at different homes on Kupreanof and Mitkof islands for over a year. This fall they sent a brochure to post office boxes in Petersburg and group members have also been actively writing letters to the editor, buying newspaper ads and recording radio commentaries. Opponents also maintain a website and facebook page.
Cole said CCUB came up with a more formal game plan in the past six months. “We had a couple brainstorming sessions again kind of on a monthly basis although we had one work session that was about halfway through the month and we outlined those concerns that we have and those things that we’re not certain the people of Petersburg are aware of. And decided we would to have an attempt to continue that education through again letters, through interviews such as this, volunteers at all possible if we can get on the radio, we decided to do commentaries and we decided to put advertisements in the paper.”
CCUB even registered with the Alaska Public Offices Commission this fall. The borough vote will be conducted by the state’s division of elections with ballots mailed out starting November 26th and due back by December 18th.