On Wednesday, Mat-Su Borough officials took questions and gave information regarding the Talkeetna sewer and water system and the sales tax to fund this system that was approved by residents of the service area last month. KTNA’s Phillip Manning has more.
Typically, meetings of the Talkeetna Sewer and Water Advisory board have few, if any observers. This month, however, more than a score of people attended the board’s meeting with questions regarding the three-percent sales tax that will go into effect on January 1st and the status of the sewer and water system.
Officials from the Mat-Su Borough Public Works and Finance departments attended the meeting. Borough Finance Director Cheyenne Heindel answered a variety of questions about the circumstances under which the tax will apply. She says there will be two meetings for additional questions as well, the first of which is on November 9th from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m at the Talkeetna Public Library.
Some in the audience wanted assurances that the tax revenue will be spent on the sewer and water system. Cheyenne Heindel says state law requires that taxes collected for service areas must be spent on those services.
“When the tax is collected in the [service] area—the road service area is a good example…the taxes have to stay in those areas. I’m not willing to go to jail because somebody decided to move them someplace where they’re not legally allowed to go.”
While it’s unknown how much money the sales tax will bring in, some present at the meeting want assurance that the borough will not take too large a portion of the tax revenue for overhead. Public Works Director Terry Dolan says his department has a vested interest in making sure the tax revenue stays in the sewer and water utility’s coffers.
“From a public works standpoint…it’s in my interest to minimize the amount of this tax money that leaves and goes to [the department of] finance or law, because we’re going to need this money to get this utility back on its feet and back in compliance.”
Terry Dolan also provided updates on the current state of the wastewater treatment system. Public Works has is using a list of priorities from a study of the system by CRW Engineering in 2014 to guide efforts to improve the system. Dolan says efforts this summer to stop infiltration prevented an estimated 12 million gallons of extra water from being treated.
“The system is mostly built below the water table, so when it springs a leak, sewage doesn’t leak out. What happens is water leaks into the system. That water goes to the lagoons and has to be treated just like human wastewater. That was one of the major problems with the system, is it was being overwhelmed by all this water leaking into it…”
Dolan says the impact of cutting down on infiltration won’t be seen until next year. Even so, he’s preparing for the potential need to make significant capital upgrades to the wastewater treatment system. The most likely upgrade option would cost more than $7.5 million in total. The first phase of that plan, which involves chlorination to kill bacteria in wastewater, would cost just over a million dollars, and could be built next summer if needed.
In addition to future tax revenue, the public works department is pursuing potential funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a community development block grant from the state, and low-interest loans from the Alaska Clean Water Fund. The USDA grant process involves a study, which Dolan says should be complete and available to the public later this month.