Last year, the Alaska Legislature voted to give the Mat-Su Borough $100,000 to perform an assessment of the Talkeetna sewer and water system. The Borough has contracted CRW Engineering Group to conduct the study. Andrea Meeks, a civil engineer with CRW, says that the assessment is designed to help develop a plan to balance the books, which are currently running at an annual deficit of about $100,000.
“Our approach is two prong. One is to look at how we can reduce the cost of the system, [and] the other is a utility cost analysis to determine how best to generate the revenues, whether through a rate increase or another mechanism, to cover the costs of the system.”
On Thursday, an engineering team was in Talkeetna to observe how the system operates as part of the cost-reduction component of the strategy. Andrea Meeks says that there are a number of factors that could help drive down operating costs.
“Are there areas where we can improve energy efficiency, or are there older facilities, or older systems, that should be replaced because they’re not operating as well as they could be. So, we’re going to look at in terms of: Physically, what can be done with the system to reduce costs and improve operation?”
Andrea Meeks says that the second part of the plan, revenue, will likely involve some form of rate increase, though it is too early to say what that might look like. Other options include exploring the possibility of area taxes through the Borough, and a re-examination of how customers are classified in the system. Currently, only two groups exist, residential and commercial users.
“In addition to looking at what kinds of revenues are needed, we’re going to be looking at the customer classifications and if they’re currently appropriate, or if they should be modified because of the varying use of the sewer and water. There are seasonal highs here, there are obviously tourists that come to town. Are there some different customer classifications we can look at, and does the board, the Borough, and the community support those classifications, because obviously they’re going to affect everybody?”
Andrea Meeks says that she was impressed by the engagement of the twenty community members who attended a meeting earlier this week to discuss the sewer and water system. She says that input from that meeting could have an impact on what options are explored for other sources of funding.
“Based on what I heard the other night, I’m certainly open to considering what some of the other options are for Talkeetna to generate additional revenue. I’m by no means a tax attorney, but we can ask the question, and that’s what we intend to do.”
A draft of the Talkeetna sewer and water assessment is planned to be completed by May. After that, CRW Engineering Group plans to take comments on the draft, including holding another meeting in Talkeetna. Afterwards, the report will be finalized and sent to the Borough. Currently, the Borough Assembly has no plans to address the rates for Talkeetna Sewer and Water until August, pending a review of the findings.