MAT-SU—Local and state leaders for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough held discussions this week over how to meet the needs of the state's fastest growing community.
Mayor Curt Menard and Assembly members for the Borough presented a resolution to the MAT-SU's State Delegation. The resolution lays out a list of legislative priorities for the state operating budget and for capital projects. The resolution accompanies this email and is posted on the Borough Web site under press releases at www.matsugov.us
Property tax relief in the form of sustainable municipal revenue sharing is on the list, especially at a time when the state is enjoying a budget surplus as a result of historic oil prices. The Assembly requests that funding for property tax relief should be based upon six percent of the revenue the state collects from its natural resource development. MAT-SU home and property owners shoulder most of the burden of paying for local services.
The Assembly also stands behind full funding of senior citizen property tax exemptions, which are mandated by the state yet not paid by the state.
Increased funding for the state Department of Transportation budget is a top priority. Three of Alaska's most dangerous roads are in the MAT-SU: the Parks Highway from Wasilla to Big Lake; the Palmer-Wasilla Highway, and Knik-Goose Bay Road. All three need immediate attention in order to save lives. Assembly Member Cindy Bettine shares the frustration with some legislators over how slowly the already-funded traffic signals are going in. "Let us know what we can do to expedite transportation capital projects in the Borough," Bettine said.
Bettine, of Big Lake, also represents the Knik-Fairview area, the fifth largest city in the state if it were incorporated. Bettine asked Legislators for their support of a Palmer Hay Flats Natural Science Center. The center would showcase Alaska's most accessible natural and wildlife refuges while also enhancing tourism and providing important natural science educational opportunities.
The Assembly asked for help in funding key capital improvements for the proposed Hatcher Pass Ski Area, such as a day lodge and parking lot. Assembly Member Rob Wells told Legislators he is optimistic about seeing some options that focus on a day-use regional ski area. "It'll provide more recreational opportunities for our youth and families in the Borough much like our pools and ice rinks. It'll be a catalyst for many small businesses, everything from ski rentals to restaurants," Wells said.
Borough efforts to put ski lifts, a day lodge, and a Nordic trail system at Hatcher Pass are moving forward. The Borough contracted in July with Dowl Engineers to begin an environmental analysis of the area for the recreation project. A project team will be conducting a scoping process to learn what concerns the public and regulating agencies may have about a ski development.
Also on the capital projects list is requested funding for substandard bridges and roads in the Borough. About 20 bridges in the Borough were recently de-rated or found to be substandard by the state, limiting the weight capacity and consequently the types of services provided for people who live beyond the bridges. Some of these older bridges were built using rail cars to span the gap.
Assembly Member Tom Kluberton said the de-rating of the rail car bridges was not based on engineering, but on an educated guess of how much the bridges can hold. Kluberton expressed his concerns for two bridges in his district on Oilwell Road. "The de-rating has left 11 families stranded without access to heating fuel, ambulance, and road maintenance. ... Traffic counters there have shown an average daily count of 175 vehicles per day.," Kluberton said, citing the bridges as a statewide issue. The Borough has six more bridges of this sort in need of repair, estimated at a cost of $250,000, he said.
In attendance was the entire Delegation: Senate President Lyda Green, Speaker of the House John Harris, Sen. Gene Terriault, Sen. Charlie Huggins, Rep. Bill Stoltze, Rep. Carl Gatto, Rep. Mark Neuman, and Rep. Wes Keller.
Rep. Stoltze complimented the Assembly on its efforts to enhance salmon returns to the Susitna River drainage. Assembly Member Tom Kluberton is chair of t he Mayor's Blue Ribbon Sportsmen's Committee, which was rekindled last year to give MAT-SU anglers a voice. The task force has been working on recommendations to help improve recent weak returns.
For more information call Borough Manager John Duffy at 745-9689.