Turnagain Arm Police Service Area Begins
By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
A new police service area was formed as a result of April’s Municipal election. It creates a $50,000 fund to pay for that policing and ranges from Fire Island to the communities of Rainbow, Indian, Bird Creek and Portage, covering the Anchorage areas previously without policing.
When the initial Turnagain Arm Police Service Area (TAPSA) meeting began, there were 10 people present, including Assembly Member John Weddleton. Wendy Wolf, Janet Sperbeck and Tyler Grey from Turnagain Arm Community Council (TACC), which represents Rainbow, Indian and Bird Creek, were on hand. Mike Edgington from the Girdwood Board of Supervisors and Public Safety Advisory Committee member and retired Alaska State Trooper Mike Opalka were there as well.
The informal meeting’s purpose was to have an open discussion concerning whether or not a committee should be formed. If so, what would it look like and how would it function? The June 22 meeting at the Girdwood Community Center was the first opportunity to get interested people together to discuss the issue and how to proceed.
The meeting began with an overview of TAPSA as a way to start discussion over what to do next, if anything. Each community has different law enforcement issues, and Fire Island is populated with wind turbines, not humans.
APD is contracted with TAPSA during this first year. The ordinance does not specify which police force monies must be spent on. If arrangements can be made, TAPSA could hypothetically contract with Whittier for Crow Creek and Portage coverage and APD for Rainbow, Indian and Bird Creek coverage.
APD does not charge TAPSA for responses to incidents on the Seward Highway, and there have been no billings so far. If APD responds to an incident in the service area, it bills TAPSA, which receives $50,000 funding annually from residents. The mill rate self-adjusts yearly to replenish the fund to $50,000, avoiding need to hold another vote on the issue.
“In the ordinance,” Wolf said, “the way it’s written is that it’s to maintain the pot of $50,000, so at the end of this year if we’ve only spent $20,000, our mill rate for the next year will be to replenish.”
Due to a mutual aid agreement, if APD asked Whittier Police Department (WPD) to respond to a call, payment would go to Whittier with TAPSA funding.
Opalka described what WPD would do, saying, “Depending on what the call is, Whittier will go up there and stand by. They may not do much enforcement, but would protect life and property or some such scenario depending on what it was.”
Weddleton suggested forming an advisory committee and having it recognized by the Anchorage Assembly. The committee would have oversight of the tax service area and would act as a conduit between people in the area, the Municipality and Anchorage Police Department (APD). The arrangement should represent all communities in the new service area.
Indian resident David Sperbeck said if there is going to be an advisory board, it needs to define its mission. He suggested proceeding slowly and informally because it is premature to form a committee. He did not know yet if TAPSA needed to be that sophisticated but said it may be possible in the future.
Others said there is a need to organize. It gives residents a committee to turn to if problems arise because it takes longer to arrange and respond after the fact. A committee, even an informal one, would have a structure in place and could respond more efficiently.
Committee members would initially be appointed, and could later be elected. It depends what the communities in the service area want as well as their level of committee interest. Seats can be difficult to fill due to apathy and other commitments. The committee might need to consider bylaws, how leadership positions are obtained and when and where to meet.
One possibility suggested was TACC expanding its police subcommittee to include the rest of the TAPSA communities. Portage Community Council and Crow Creek are not part of TACC’s jurisdiction.
There was also discussion about forming a committee separate and independent from TACC. It was said that such an arrangement would be clearer and a representative from each community would form the committee.
“I think we should organize as soon as possible,” Grey said. “We don’t have to do anything. We don’t have to start mandating what they [APD] do. Having a group separate from [TACC] is a cleaner solution. When we do decide we want to make a suggestion, we’re organized and recognized and available to do it. I don’t see any reason to delay.”
The next TAPSA meeting is Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. in the Girdwood Community Center.