The debt of the Talkeetna water and sewage system is significantly higher than previously reported. On July 12th, KTNA reported, after the Sewer and Water Advisory Board meeting, that the debt owed to the Mat-Su Borough for shortfalls in operating expenses was around $300,000. At the meeting this Wednesday, Board chair Karen Schapansky said that the number is closer to $500,000, in addition to $160,000 borrowed from the Borough’s “revolving loan” process.
As a result of the consistent deficit of the sewer and water system, Borough Mayor Larry DeVilbiss plans to ask for a 10% rate increase for customers of the borough-run utility. A borough memorandum indicates that the ordinance will be introduced at the August 6th Assembly meeting.
The rate increase as well as what the board perceives as administrative mismanagement caused significant frustration at the Sewer and Water Board meeting. Karen Schapansky said in discussions that she doesn’t see the borough has having adequately supported the Board or Talkeetna. She says that the borough administration has not done a good enough job seeking outside funding to help with operational costs, and that the most recent assistance came from direct budget action by Assemblyman Vern Halter, who led the effort to have $75,000 of the next Borough budget allocated to offset budget shortfall. and a state grant won through the initiative of the Board and the Talkeetna Community Council.
A grant from the State of Alaska was awarded after Schapansky and Cary Birdsall, chair of the Talkeetna Community Council, wrote a request to State Representative Wes Keller. That grant is for $100,000 to bring in an expert who will assess the operation of the sewer and water system and formulate a potential business plan that would allow the utility to become solvent. In an e-mail to the Board, borough Operations and Maintenance Manager Jim Jenson says that the study is estimated to begin next summer.
Before the meeting adjourned, Karen Schapansky announced that she will be stepping down as the chair of the Sewer and Water Board to spend more time with her family. The resignation means that the Board, which only fairly recently began making quorum at regular meetings. Other board members said they had experienced sufficient frustration that they had considered resignation as well.