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Teacher's Guide

Regional History
Governing Alaska
Local Government

In Alaska there are two main options for local government under state law--cities and organized boroughs.

During the debate at the constitutional convention over what to call regional governments delegate Frank Barr, a Fairbanks bush pilot, said he couldn't stomach the proposal to call them "boroughs."

Alaska's first Mayor and City Council 1901, Nome
"I am trying to get rid of the word 'borough' because I want to be able to walk down the streets without having people throw rocks at me," Barr told his fellow delegates. He said he didn't want people to think he was a rabbit because he came from a "burrow." Barr wanted the municipal governments to be known as counties, like in other parts of the U.S. . He lost that battle, as other delegates said they wanted Alaska to break with the past and avoid the problems identified with county government.

Today, Alaska has 16 organized boroughs and nearly 150 cities. The cities range in size from a population of 24 in Kupreanof to more than 30,000 in Fairbanks. They vary in area from three-tenths of a square mile in Kiana to 466 miles in Skagway.

The constitution provides that the entire state be split up into organized and "unorganized" boroughs. The legislature treats the portion of the state not within a borough, about 57% of the state, as a single "unorganized borough." The unorganized borough does not have a local government, but under the constitution the legislature provides necessary services.. About 13% of Alaskans live in the unorganized borough.

On average, the boroughs contain 17,400 square miles, but there is a wide variation in their size. The largest borough is the North Slope, which contains 94,000 square miles, enough land so that if it were set off by itself, the North Slope Borough would be the 12th largest state in the nation. At the other end , the Bristol Bay Borough contains 918 square miles.

There are three types of cities and five types of boroughs in Alaska, with different, powers and duties. Anchorage, for example , has a "unified home rule" government, which has all the legislative powers that are not prohibited by law or charter according to the state constitution.

All of Alaska's boroughs are required to form municipal school districts, which are funded in part by local tax dollars and in part by the state. In the unorganized borough, education is offered through 19 Regional Education Attendance Areas (REAA) funded by the state.


  • Municipal government structure in Alaska

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