Two Rivers/Pleasant Valley Fire Service Election certified after contentious testimony and debate
The election to create a Fire Service District in the Two Rivers/Pleasant Valley area was certified by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly late Friday, Dec. 16. It was the second night in a row the Assembly discussed and voted on the issue.
The election held Tuesday November 15th was to create a Fire Service Area between Mile 12 and Mile 27 of Chena Hot Springs Road, northeast of Fairbanks. That’s where 11 buildings were burned in a string of arson fires in 2021.
149 residents voted for the service area, and 92 voted against.
At last Thursday night’s Borough Assembly meeting, the body voted to accept the results of the election from the Borough Clerk. But the vote was 4-4. (Assembly member Kristin Kelly had been excused from the meeting.) So Borough Attorney Jill Dolan advised the Assembly to take up the issue again, because she says the law requires a majority vote.
“State law requires the governing body to declare the election results. The method you've chosen to do that, and how you've set it out in Title 5 is, you have a canvass board and that canvass board submits a report to you and then you accept that report,” Dolan said.
During citizens comments on the issue Thursday, about a dozen people said they did not want to pay for fire service and asked the Assembly not to certify the election. Members Barbara Haney, Brett Rotermund and Tammie Wilson all said Thursday they were persuaded by citizens who said they weren’t sure what they were voting on, or which day the election was scheduled, and wanted the Assembly to invalidate the election.
At Friday night’s meeting, Assembly member David Guttenberg appealed to other members to follow borough code.
“You got 250 people here, roughly 240-something people here that showed up for an election. That's more than showed up for the regular muni election. And we're telling them that, ‘No, your votes don't count’ by not certifying this.’ That's what we're saying. ‘Your votes don't count.’ ‘We want a do-over, ’cause we didn't get the results we wanted.’ So I don't think we could do anything except say that it was a validly-held election. By law, by statute, and for these 250 people who showed up to vote.”
About 730 people were eligible to vote in the service area election.
The Assembly worked through motions for about two hours Friday that all failed on tie votes. Many were in two parts, such as: to accept the Canvas Board’s report of the election and declare the election invalid, or to accept the report and certify the election. All failed.
Near 11 p.m. Friday, member Savannah Fletcher moved just to accept the Canvas Board’s report.
“This isn't risking taking us past the step that I think some folks here are hesitating to do. It just gets out of the way one of the two questions we have to answer: there's the validity one that this doesn't address, and the accuracy of this Canvass Board report. So again, I would just ask for your support of this so we can move on to focus on the other piece,” said Fletcher.
That motion passed. Then member Jimi Cash moved to certify the election – something he had voted against four times already in the meeting. But he told members he wanted to call for a repeal election that would un-do the service area.
“This is in the motive of trying to move things forward, and I have already begun discussions and figuring out how to get an ordinance moved forward to bring another election.”
Dolan, the borough attorney, was asked for a timeline if the body certified the November 15 election, but wanted to set up a repeal election before a Fire Service Area Commission would start business in Two Rivers/Pleasant Valley.
“Ordinance 2252 would go into effect. So, the service area would go into effect. We could appoint a commission and start working on it. And then the election to abolish would be 75 days from passage. So, at this point, it would be your second meeting in January if you could pass that ordinance. And so, 75 days from there. So you're looking at April-ish timeframe,” Dolan said.
The vote on certifying the November election passed on a 5 – 3 vote. Members Fletcher, Guttenberg, Mindy O’Neall, Aaron Lojewski and Jimi Cash voted to certify. Haney, Rotermund and Wilson voted that the election was not valid.