WASILLA -- Two months into his term, things seem to be clicking along quietly at Wasilla City Hall under new mayor Verne Rupright's leadership.
Rupright was sworn in Nov. 3, replacing Dianne Keller who managed the city for six years.
New leadership at Wasilla, where the elected mayor also serves as the city's chief executive officer, often brings about a rash of changes within city management. But Rupright's biggest changes to date have been to swap the locations of the mayor's office and conference room, and to preside over one of the shortest meetings in city history, 28 minutes.
Although he's not making waves, Rupright is making plans for the city: expanding city boundaries and ratcheting down departmental budgets are two items on the defense lawyer turned politician's long to-do list.
The big project under way, Rupright said, is a new city comprehensive plan. The city council will weigh whether to pay $75,000 for a new comprehensive plan at Monday's meeting. A request for proposals was advertised in late December and will close in late January, city administrators said. The previous plan, last updated in 1996, reflects a city much smaller than present-day Wasilla.
Rupright said he's holding off on filling the city's lead economic development planning position, in part to pay for the comprehensive plan. The plan, which requires participation from city residents throughout the process, is expected to take at least a year to complete. Once finished, Rupright has ambitious plans for expanding the city's borders.
Pointing out streets on a city map, Rupright showed where he wants to expand city boundaries west to Seward-Meridian Parkway. The move would take in land on the north side of Wasilla Lake currently outside the city and add commercial property on the Parks Highway west of the city, near Jacobsen Lake.
While annexation attempts often draw protests, Rupright said he thinks more people will welcome city residence this time around. Wasilla doesn't impose property taxes, so residents in the city only pay Matanuska-Susitna Borough property taxes. Their neighbors, meanwhile, who live outside the city, must pay both borough property taxes and taxes for road and fire service.
City officials are calculating how expanding the city will affect its operations and maintenance budgets.
Although Wasilla's economy is still looking good, Rupright said he asked department heads to get ready for a downturn by cutting their 2010 budgets by 3 percent to 5 percent.
"The economic indicators we're seeing in other states -- we're not in immediate danger here -- but we'd better start taking in our belt," Rupright said. "We can learn to do as well with a little less."
Rupright said he's learning the lay of the city before making any big changes. To do that, he's ridden with city public works employees and police officers as they do their jobs and spent time at the city emergency dispatch center during the busy holidays. He said he hopes that openness with employees pays off in the form of ideas for running the city better or more efficiently. One way he hopes to gather those ideas in by installing suggestion boxes in all city departments for ideas from employees and the public, he said.
"My door is open," he said.
Find Daily News reporter Rindi White online at www.adn.com/contact/rwhite or call 352-6709.