Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Assembly to consider overriding veto

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Tuesday, February 07, 2006

PALMER—Last night, five Assembly members agreed to set a special meeting next week on proposed school bonds after Borough Mayor Tim Anderson vetoed an original public hearing. The Assembly will consider an override of the Mayor's veto and hold a public hearing at the next meeting, Feb. 14, at 6 p.m. The vote to set the special meeting took place Tuesday night when business leaders, educators, and parents filled the Assembly chambers. About a 100 residents attended even though the public hearing was canceled. Assemblywoman Cindy Bettine made the motion to set the special meeting before the timeline runs out for a special election. Bettine represents the Knik Goose Bay area, likely the fastest growing spot in Alaska. The Knik-Fairview area's population grew by 31 percent in just four years, from the year 2000 to 2004. Goose Bay Elementary has five portables now, but needs another two this year and likely more next year. In the last month, the school gained 36 students. A portable costs $80,000 at a minimum. "Another portable costs the same as a special election," Bettine said. "Goose Bay has a half a million dollars in portables now, and voters didn't get a say in it. This is not about the budget, this is not about school district management, this is about square footage and the need for buildings," Bettine said. Goose Bay Elementary holds about 150 more students than the building was designed to serve. One small class is held in a supply closet. In his veto message, Mayor Anderson said he supports the need for new schools but issued a veto because of concerns about increased costs as well as voter disapproval of nearly the same bonds four months ago. "We can place these same bond questions on the ballot at the regular Borough election on Oct. 3, 2006, and if approved by the voters, receive the same state reimbursement percentages for the bonds issues," Anderson wrote. The cost of the special election is $83,300. If voters approved the bonds in either election, construction wouldn't likely begin until the summer of 2007. However, the special election could get up to a six-month jump on design work. It could also get children into the schools faster and possibly reduce the need for more portables. If approved, a special election would allow voters to decide on nearly $40 million in general obligation bonds for school construction and renovation. The proposed bonds would build two new elementary schools, one for the Knik Goose Bay area, the other for the south Palmer/Trunk Road area, as well as major renovations for Wasilla High School and Wasilla Middle School. If the proposed bonds were approved, property taxes would increase by $34 annually for a house valued at $200,000. The state, however, would pay most of the cost to build. Under a state law that expires in October, the state will reimburse at least 60 percent of the construction costs on one school and up to 70 percent on the other school. Unlike anywhere else in the state, the MAT-SU is growing in student population by a school per year. Some 25 public opinion messages expressed support for the special election. Three chambers of commerce, Big Lake, Palmer, and Wasilla, passed a joint resolution supporting the special election. Wayne Martin, with the Greater Wasilla Chamber of Commerce, told the Assembly that good schools are a key component to economic development in part because they attract relocating businesses. Martin read from the chambers' resolution, saying "good local schools stabilize communities, positively influence housing values and offer reliable infrastructure for economic investment." If the Assembly overrides the veto and supports a special election, the date for the election could be May 2, according to Borough Clerk Michelle McGehee.