Signs of the times: Election season brings a code check for campaigns | Local News Stories

WASILLA — With the annual borough and city elections coming to a head Oct. 3, campaign signs across the Mat-Su are popping up like dandelions after breakup. While the signs are akin to a summer wildfire bloom, those posting them should be aware of state, borough and city codes used to ensure public safety and discourage possible blight.

Statewide, sign placement in any municipality, borough or state road right-of-way is prohibited, according to Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities officials. Spokespersons from the Mat-Su, along with the cities of Palmer, Wasilla, and Houston said sign issues emerge every election but rarely does it take more than a couple of phone calls to resolve the matter.

“Most are law-abiding citizens,” said Andy Dean, borough right-of-way coordinator about those who put up campaign signs. “We get ahold of their campaign manager and they move them.”

Dean said he rarely sees safety issues related to sign placement. Encroachment concerns are the most prevalent of those.  Borough code prohibits sign placement within borough road right-of-way.

“It varies by location,” Dean said. “Typically, there’s a 60-foot right-of-way. But there are lots of 50-foot or smaller restrictions also. The homeowner should be cognizant of that.”

Dean said the borough does have a permit process for anyone wanting to place signs within the legal right-of-way. It involves completing the application and paying a $150 fee to move it through the review process. Dean said making application and paying the fee doesn’t guarantee approval. He said it takes a minimum of two days and as long as two weeks for each involved department to review the request.

The City of Palmer allows for political and campaign placement in all districts. Those wishing to place signs must first obtain and complete a permit application.

“You do need a permit, but it’s a no-fee permit that can be filled out at the community development office,” said interim director David Meneses. “It’s just a couple of documents…who’s responsible for the signs. Things like that.”

According to city code, the permit is good for one or more signs. Meneses said the city will typically not remove signs out of the right-of-way. He said if there is a reason to contact someone, the matter is almost always quickly and amicably resolved.

“The city will contact someone first. We usually don’t remove them unless there is an immediate safety issue,” Meneses said. “We try and work with the candidates first.”

According to Palmer city code, signs 4 by 8 feet or smaller are permitted five months prior to any election and must be removed no later than 15 days following the election. In single-family and suburban estate residentially zoned districts, signs are limited to four square feet. City code limits the total square footage of all signs on a parcel to 32 square feet.

No permit is issued unless the applicant submits a signed guarantee that all political signs will be removed as stated in city code. The city has the right to, after giving seven days’ written notice, remove the sign and bill the guarantor for the removal costs.

City of Houston Clerk Sonya Dukes said those wishing to place signs, including political signs, within the city must complete a permit and pay a $25 fee. She said the permits are available through the city’s public works department and the fee includes multiple sign placements. If signs are placed on private property other than by the owner, the permit must include signed consent. Placing signs without the proper permit on file will result in a $300 additional fee.

Dukes said she was aware of several minor issues related issues this campaign season.

“Public works made a few phone calls,” said Dukes.

City code stipulates political signs must be displayed no more than 90 days prior to and seven days following the date of a primary election, except that a successful candidate’s sign may remain displayed up to seven days after the general election.

There are no listed setbacks related to right-of-way placement on city roadways. However, the city may remove any sign determined to endanger public safety or signs illegally placed on public property.

Wasilla does not require permits to place election signs nor are there any associated fees, according to Wasilla Public Works Director Archie Giddings. Giddings said right-of-way setbacks vary widely through the city. City code prohibit sign placement along any city or state roadway right-of-way.

“It’s been hit-and-miss,” Giddings said about finding signs in violation of setback requirements. “Right-of-ways vary all over the place. The best place for a person to look is by using the borough’s maps.”

City code stipulates that signs in violation will be removed without notice and held by the city for 15 calendar days at which point, it has the option of disposal. In accordance with policy, city staff will attempt to contact the sign owner for recovery and may charge a $10 fee. City code stipulates political signs must conform to other municipal codes regardless of where they are placed.