Alaska in Brief

To help a rural town, Alaska’s Legislature approves a path to scale back municipal power

By: - May 12, 2023 5:00 pm

Tanana City offices are seen on Aug. 19, 2011, in this photo from the Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs. (State of Alaska photo)

The Alaska Legislature is offering help to the Yukon River town of Tanana as it seeks to dissolve its local school district and join the larger Yukon-Koyukuk Rural Educational Attendance Area.

The Alaska Senate voted 19-0 on Friday to approve House Bill 69, which allows cities with shrinking populations to more easily switch away from first-class status under state law.

The House voted 39-0 to approve a slightly different version of HB 69 on April 14; the bill will return to the House for a procedural vote before advancing to Gov. Mike Dunleavy for final approval.

HB 69 was originally sponsored by Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, who said in a written statement that the town was unable to transfer its school because Tanana is a first-class city, and state law requires first-class cities — if outside a borough — to be in charge of local schools.

There are 18 first-class cities in Alaska, according to certificates published by the state’s Local Boundary Commission.

Under state law, the powers of local governments are limited by classification. Home-rule cities such as Fairbanks, Kodiak or Cordova, have the widest possible powers. 

Below that are first-class cities, like Tanana, and there are second-class cities below that.

State law requires a first-class city to have at least 400 residents, but there’s no provision in state law for removing that status if a city drops below the 400-person mark.

House Bill 69 allows a local city council to petition the Local Boundary Commission for demotion. 

Under the bill, the commission has 30 days to determine whether the city has fewer than 400 people, and if so, it grants permission and gives the local governing council another 30 days to make the final decision.

If the council takes no action, the demotion happens automatically; if the council opposes the demotion, it stops.

Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks and the senator for the district covering Tanana, noted that Tanana’s school was once part of the Yukon-Koyukuk district, and with the bill’s passage, it will be allowed to be so again.


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James Brooks
James Brooks

James Brooks is a longtime Alaska reporter, having previously worked at the Anchorage Daily News, Juneau Empire, Kodiak Mirror and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. A graduate of Virginia Tech, he is married to Caitlyn Ellis, owns a house in Juneau and has a small sled dog named Barley. He can be contacted at [email protected].