by Sue Deyoe ~ August 4th, 2011
The Talkeetna water utility board has moved forward with alternatives to the proposed rate hike. The proposal sent a team of local residents scurrying to find help with the tens of thousands of dollars of debt instead of putting the burden on paying customers. Sue Deyoe has more on the latest meeting and recent decisions…
The Talkeetna Sewer and Water board voted Wednesday afternoon on a number of actions after months of discussion on a $100,000 debt. The financial problems of the utility finally caught the eye of Mat Su Borough mayor Larry DeVilbiss and Assembly when the $44 increase per customer proposal went in front of the Assembly for a vote.
The Assembly has given the utility board 90 days total to come up with alternatives. Assemblyman Vern Halter attended the latest utility board meeting and tried to give advice.
Vern Halter: “…and then we could do the bed tax grant monies, we could get the letter to Senator Huggins and Newman right away, asking for the 20, 30, $35,000 coming in yearly to this area. You’ve a letter to the Denali Commission right away through the Talkeetna Sewer and Water Board saying, this is the problem, we would like some help and I suppose you would have to define it real clearly.”
The looming debt stems from a number of issues. The utility currently owes money on loans from past grants to improve or upgrade the system, the water plant operator has become almost full time instead of part time and there have been a number of emergency situations this past winter that required contractor assistance.
Kathy Stoltz says past finances on the utilities books are finally clear. She has been questioning the Borough’s financial records on the system. Stoltz said the misunderstanding was due to terminology and the type of accounting at the Borough level. Dawn Jones also got involved in the process and she is questioning terms of past grants.
The borough employees in attendance said she would have to fill out freedom of information act forms to receive documents. Jim Kellard, board president, says the utility board itself does not have any of the documents related to grants or loans on the system.
The utility advisory board voted to approve a Borough Assembly action that would lead to meter installation for all customers. They will be sending letters asking for financial assistance from the Denali Commission as well as the state legislature. They are also asking the Talkeetna Community Council to look at the possibility of using some of the recently received Borough parks funds to pay for a bathroom in the Village Park.
Mayor Larry DeVilbiss attended the meeting and speculates that a service area might be the resolution for the future.
Larry DeVilbiss: “I think the ultimate goal here should be, to be, sustainable and I think that’s not going to be achieved until you take in the whole user group. And I think that’s, I think the metering will help determining where the water is going, and adjust, and bring some justice to the user fees.”
He admits that the village utility is unique and it may continue to be a struggle.
Larry DeVilbiss: “Normally this would be handled through our CA and so what’s happening here, the Assembly is operating as our CA and it’s a painful way to do business in a Borough this big.”
The discussion of the grants continued after the meeting and will most likely come forward again at next month’s meeting.
The Utility Advisory Board meets the first Wed of the month at the Talkeenta Fire Hall.
(this story was transcribed)