On Wednesday morning, Mat-Su Borough Assembly Member Vern Halter visited the KTNA studio to answer questions about the borough budget, schools, the railroad, and other issues facing Upper Valley residents on Su-Valley Voice. Unfortunately, an issue with the recording means that KTNA will not be able to re-air the program or post it online this week. Su-Valley Voice host and News Producer Phillip Manning went through the parts of the recording that were recovered, and has this report:
Borough Assembly Member Vern Halter and I discussed a wide variety of topics on Wednesday’s Su-Valley Voice program. We began with a review of the legislative session. Vern Halter says he believes that the Mat-Su delegation did a good job securing appropriations for the borough, including fire service funding and resurfacing the Parks Highway from Mile 90 north. One area where Vern Halter disagreed with at least one local state legislator is Senator Mike Dunleavy’s proposed constitutional amendment to allow public funds to go to private schools.
“I’m opposed to it quite flat out–just straight across the board. I don’t like it. I think we ought to stick with our public school system. We ought to provide better access, better schools, and everything we can, and not dilute it.”
Most of the interview revolved around topics within the borough, where EMS remains a hot topic. Issues with contributions to the public employee retirement system, concerns over the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and an increasing population have borough officials looking at how the system is organized. The current plan involves increasing the number of full-time emergency services employees in the Core Valley. Vern Halter says that he believes the fire and ambulance services in the Upper Valley will likely stay the same.
“I think it’s pretty much going to be the same old system. You’re still going to have your number of people responding to fires, responding to EMS, and responding with ambulances that it was in the past…When I questioned them, they said there would be no change at the level of service in the rural areas, but they feel like this will improve the core area.”
The Knik Arm Crossing is also a question that looms large in the borough. It did receive funding from the state legislature this year, and Vern Halter says he believes it’s a good project.
“To me, looking at it–I’m the type of person that pretty steadfastly opposed the dam up here, but I actually support the bridge. When you’re down there, you can see that it’s needed, it’s going to improve the valley, [and] the growth down there is going to move south instead of probably here.”
Part of Vern Halter’s reasoning for wanting the bridge is tied to his belief that further development of the Port Mackenzie rail spur project will provide economic growth and jobs.
“I’d like to see that get finished, because until we get it finished, you can’t really open it up. We get a lot of criticism because there’s not revenue coming in from the port. Well, you’ve got to get this thing done and get rolling with it. I think twenty, thirty years from now–which I know is a long time from now–this is going to be water under the bridge because that port is sitting in such a good location to do commodities.”
Vern Halter and I also discussed issues more specific to the Upper Valley. A listener called in to the show and wanted to know about the status of upgrades on Yoder Road. Vern Halter says the process is ongoing, though he wishes it was moving faster.
“What they’re waiting for–the land they want to build this dike on, the revetment so the river doesn’t wash the road out, that is [Cook Inlet Region, Inc.] land. I think they were pretty much getting that worked out. We do have the money available. We have the money to build it, so we’re working on making sure those relationships–because we’d be on private land where we want to build. As soon as that’s worked out…I want to get that road tarred back up to the bridge…That’s the way it always was, paved to the bridge, and make sure that’s all done as quickly as we can.”
Two listeners called in to discuss the Alaska Railroad. Some area residents are concerned that the railroad’s plan to spray herbicides could contaminate homesteads, trails, and perhaps waterways. While the borough government does not have control over the railroad, Vern Halter says herbicide spraying is something worth being concerned over.
“It’d be a worry. Then you’ve got your water systems and all the runoff. I hope the railroad is very cautious in that issue, and takes a really close look at it, and listens to the community of Talkeetna.”
Vern Halter and the other members of the Mat-Su Borough Assembly will continue to meet over the next week to decide the final borough budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. KTNA will continue to provide updates as the process moves along.