Mat-Su OKs new fire station near hospital

zhollander@adn.comAugust 21, 2013 

PALMER -- The Matanuska-Susitna Borough will build a new fire station next to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center for $9.25 million, using an unusual funding method that doesn't require voter permission.

Borough emergency officials said the station is necessary to meet the needs of the hospital and the growing commercial and residential construction around it. They said they need ambulance supply storage space, as well as room for a 100-foot aerial ladder truck that doesn't fit in the current station, located on rented property near the hospital.

The Mat-Su Borough Assembly, at a meeting Tuesday night, voted unanimously to override a previous veto on the project filed by Mayor Larry DeVilbiss.

The mayor objected not to the station but how the borough plans to pay for it: a financing mechanism called "certificates of participation" rather than the more familiar general obligation bonds used by most municipalities for major construction projects.

DeVilbiss, in his veto, said it wasn't appropriate to incur 20 years of public debt without a vote of the taxpayers.

General obligation bonds must gain voter approval because they require the use of property tax revenues to pay down debt service obligations. Certificates of participation, however, don't require a vote. The borough used this financing to build the main borough fire station in downtown Wasilla and the borough animal shelter.

According to borough documents, the cost of building the new station -- Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service Area Public Safety Building Station 5-1 -- will lead to a slight increase in property taxes. Areawide taxes would increase about $100 on a home assessed at $200,000 and about $200 for a similar home in the Wasilla-Lakes Fire Service Area.

Assembly members voted unanimously to overturn the mayor's veto, calling the station a service the public expects the government to provide. A few dozen uniformed emergency responders attended Tuesday's meeting.

"I do not support certificates of participation for anything but essential services," Assembly member Ron Arvin said, adding he wouldn't include an animal shelter in that category. "But when we talk about emergency services infrastructure, I support it."

DeVilbiss had said he expected the Assembly to overturn his veto.

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