By Leigh Armstrong
The assembly’s civic affairs committee May 15 continued its review of proposed fines for violations of more than 200 ordinances currently lacking a specific fine in municipal code, with more work planned for another committee meeting in the future.
The committee of Assemblymembers Dave Brena, Steve Burnham and Orion Hanson spoke with police Sgt. Kenneth Cox, who had compiled the list of proposed fines.
When municipal code violations don’t have a fine attached to them, officers will issue a citation that has a maximum fine of $500 and then recommend a suggested fine to the magistrate, Cox said.
Cox looked at other fines across Alaska to help create the comprehensive list, but there are certain violations that require a different approach in Skagway. “Some infractions would be mandatory court in other parts of Alaska, but we don’t have that option.”
Hanson supports putting some of the fines on the books, but said a $25 fine for bike riding on sidewalks is an example of maybe too much.
“I find a lot of these (fines) are civil infractions of a light quality, and I take issue to that,” Hanson said.
Cox said fines help give officers jurisdiction over violations. There are certain cases where an officer would have no ability to do anything if they found someone violating a code and refused to correct it.
Hanson said he appreciates Skagway police officers’ judgment and discretion, but was concerned about the possibility of the fines being in place with a new crew of officers or an incoming police chief.
“You pass these fines and a future police chief and officers may be far more punitive,” Hanson said. “That’s what frightens me about this.”
The assemblymembers May 15 also took into consideration whether some of the of the codes should even be on the list of fines, such as: failure to exhibit a business license and failure to conform to conditions of a business license, or fines for construction code violations that more appropriately should be resolved with the borough permitting official.
The fine for excessive building alarms could be impossible for some people to control, as the alarms reset by a technician who only gets to Skagway a couple times each year, Hanson said.
Cox said officers would still have discretion, but Brena said that was something the municipality should seek to pull away from. “We shouldn’t be doing discretionary enforcement,” Brena said. “If something is on the books, it should be enforced.”
One proposed fine brought up by the committee was for trapping violations. Under the list, violations of leg-hold and tree-trap regulations would carry a $25 fine.
As the Alaska Board of Game has rejected Skagway’s trapping ordinance, Burnham believes this fine in particular would be a sensitive issue.
“The violation for putting out a trap in a school zone is $25,” Burnham said. “On the flip side, we’ve had the ordinance for three years without a fine attached.”
Not all issues with the fines were over the amount. In the case of the proposed $250 fine for illegal dumping, Hanson said individuals and builders might be more likely to dump illegally after the recent rate hike to $68 per cubic yard at the incinerator because the fine was low. Hanson suggested that the municipality seek to raise the fine and add an additional amount for whatever was dumped.
The committee decided to review all of the proposed 200-plus fines and mark each one as either acceptable, too high, too low, or whether there is a problem with the code itself. The committee will compile their results and go over their lists at a future civic affairs committee meeting.